Hubert Nathan Myers and
Incident Date: May 2, 1976
Jurisdiction: Fourth Circuit
County: Duval County
Charge: First-Degree Murder, Attempted Murder
Conviction: First-Degree Murder, Attempted Murder
Sentence: Life in Prison
Year of Conviction: 1976
Exoneration Date: March 28, 2019
Sentence Served: 42 Years
Real perpetrator found? Yes, Nathanial Lawson
Contributing Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification, Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Prosecutorial Misconduct
Compensation? Not Yet
On March 28, 2019, Hubert Nathan Myers and Clifford Williams became the first exonerees freed based on the investigation and conclusions of a Conviction Integrity Unit in the State of Florida.
Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Conviction Integrity Unit Director Shelley Thibodeau recommended the State Attorney’s office consent to motions to vacate the convictions and sentences of the two men. Innocence Project of Florida attorneys Seth Miller and Krista Dolan represented Mr. Myers in a motion for post-conviction relief, and Holland & Knight attorney George E. "Buddy" Schulz Jr. represented Mr. Williams.
At a short hearing at the Duval County Courthouse on March 28, 2019, the Honorable Angela Cox of the Fourth Judicial Circuit ordered the convictions vacated and the state dropped all charges. Mr. Myers and Mr. Williams were freed after being wrongfully incarcerated for almost 43 years.
In the early morning hours on May 2, 1976 a shooting occurred on Morgan St. in Jacksonville Florida. Jeannette Williams and her partner Nina Marshall were asleep in bed when gunshots rang out in their bedroom. Jeannette was killed almost immediately, sustaining multiple bullet wounds. Her partner Nina was injured, also with multiple bullet wounds, but was able to leave the home and travel to the hospital for care.
Hearing the shots and commotion, neighbors and friends attending a birthday party for Rachael Jones came outside to observe the scene. The group of on-lookers included Nathan Myers and Clifford Williams.
Despite their alibis of being at the party when the gunshots rang out, a fact confirmed by 45 party-goers, both men were arrested by police just hours after the shooting.
The Identification of Nate and Clifford as the Assailants
Nina Marshall had been transported to the hospital by a passing vehicle she flagged down on the street. Once there, she indicated that she and her partner, Jeannette, were shot by Nathan and Clifford. Nina identified both by name.
At trial, Nina testified that the Nathan and Clifford had entered their apartment and bedroom that morning and fired into the bed until their guns were emptied. No other testimony, physical or scientific evidence, connects Nathan and Clifford to the crime. The State used the testimony of Nina alone to link them to the shooting.
A mere two months after the crime occurred, on July 22, 1976, the State of Florida jointly tried Nathan and Clifford for first-degree murder and attempted murder. The State sought the death penalty in the case, however, the first trial ended in a mistrial.
On September 1, 1976, a second joint trial was held. At trial, Nathan’s counsel did not even given an opening statement and presented no witnesses or evidence. Instead, Nathan’s defense counsel relied only on cross-examination of Nina to impeach her identification of the perpetrators. Neither defense counsel contested the State’s theory of how the shooting occurred. Physical evidence from the crime scene was never presented to the jury, evidence that would have contradicted Nina’s testimony. There were dozens of alibi witnesses from the party that Nathan and Clifford attended at the same time as the shooting, yet none were called to provide testimony in their defense.
The second trial lasted just two days and resulted in the convictions of both men. The jury recommended life in prison for both Nathan and Clifford. Nathan Myers was sentenced to life in prison. During sentencing the trial court overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Clifford Williams to death. Clifford was 34 years old. Nathan was 18 years old.
Both men immediately appealed the convictions. The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the case, affirming the conviction but reversing Clifford’s death sentence, instead sentencing him to life in prison. Nathan’s conviction and life sentence were affirmed.
Both Nathan and Clifford filed numerous pro se post-conviction motions over the decades they were incarcerated. Each one maintained their innocence of the crimes for which they were convicted. Many years after their convictions, Nathan and Clifford were made aware of new evidence in their case—a ballistics report from the Tallahassee Regional Crime Lab that showed all of the bullets in the shooting came from one gun. This evidence discredited the State’s theory that there were two shooters and favored a single shooter theory. Evidence also illustrated that the shooting came from outside the bedroom window. There was a hole in the screen, a broken window pane, glass on the bed and holes in the curtain—all pointing to the fact that the bullets must have come through the window and not from inside the bedroom as Nina had claimed.
Nathan and Clifford received the ballistics report information through a public records request they made while incarcerated. Additionally, they learned while incarcerated that another man by the name of Nathanial Lawson had confessed to the crime. In a post-conviction motion they included this information as newly discovered evidence, but the efforts to obtain post-conviction relief were rejected by the court.
Conviction Integrity Review
On January 17, 2017, Nathan Myers sent a letter to the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office asserting his innocence and requesting assistance in his case. The letter and claims within met all of the Office’s criteria for review. Once the State Attorney’s Office officially opened its Conviction Integrity Review (CIR) division in January 2018, it commenced a reinvestigation of the case.
The Conviction Integrity Review Division is an arm of the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office tasked with “investigating and resolving claims of actual innocence arising out of felony convictions obtained in the Fourth Judicial Circuit that are capable of being substantiated by credible, factual information or evidence not previously considered by the original finder of fact.” In the Fourth Judicial Circuit at the time of this review, the Office was under State Attorney Melissa Nelson, with Shelley Thibodeau serving as Director of the Conviction Integrity Review Division. This CIR is one of three conviction integrity units in the State of Florida.
Following a year-long investigation, the CIR tendered a conclusive report to the Innocence Project of Florida on February 25, 2019. As a result of its diligent and comprehensive reinvestigation of the case, the CIR found that new evidence and evidence available at the time of the trial demonstrated that:
Available and new evidence contradicted the State’s trial theory and its only material fact witness from trial;
Nathaniel Lawson confessed to a number of people that he committed the shooting by himself, and independent investigative evidence available at the time of trial confirmed that he was present at the scene at the time of the shooting; and
Multiple alibi witnesses recalled being with both Nathan and Clifford at a nearby party at the same time they heard the shots fired during the crime, demonstrating the innocence of both men.
Ultimately, the CIR concluded that a “jury presented with the evidence known by the CIR could not conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that either defendant committed the shooting and murder,” and that there “is no credible evidence of guilt, and likewise, there is credible evidence of innocence.”
Based on the CIR’s investigation and conclusions, the State Attorney’s Office indicated that it would consent to a motion to vacate the convictions and sentences of both men.
By request of the State Attorney of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Innocence Project of Florida attorneys Seth Miller and Krista Dolan represented Hubert Nathan Myers in a motion for postconviction relief based on the newly discovered evidence—the conclusions in the CIR report. Holland & Knight attorney George E. "Buddy" Schulz Jr. represented Clifford Williams on an almost identical motion.
After a hearing at the Duval County Courthouse on March 28, 2019, and based on the consent of the State Attorney’s Office to the requested relief, the Honorable Angela Cox of the Fourth Judicial Circuit ordered the convictions vacated.
Nathan Myers and Clifford Williams were exonerated, freed and reunited with their remaining family members that same day after serving nearly 43 years as innocent men. Nathan was 60 years old and Clifford was 76 years old upon their release.