8 Investigates

'They've been robbed of their lives': Not guilty, sentenced to life

'I am committed to seeing that this thing is righted'

WAVERLY, Va. (WRIC) -- An old case involving a murdered police officer in Waverly is getting a fresh look after an 8News investigation found holes in the case.

Attorney Jarett Adams, who was once wrongfully convicted himself, is taking on the case and a documentary is in the works.

Last year, we first told you the story of two Virginia men accused of murdering a Waverly police officer.
They were found not guilty of the murder. Yet in a rare move, they were sentenced to life behind bars.

Adams decided to take on the case after seeing the 8News report.

"I know what it is like to scream at the top of your lungs that you're innocent and no one is believing you,” he says.

Calling himself as a 'son of justice,' Adams is retracing the steps of the crime.

"When you're back here you can see there's not much space back here," he explained. "No one is sneaking up on anyone,” he said while standing in the midst of the Waverly woods.

He's re-interviewing key witnesses, pouring over police records and creating a documentary with the help of Nomadica Films.

“There is no blood, there is no drugs, there are no proceeds from drugs, there is nothing to this case besides testimony from people who had incentive to lie,” states Adams in a sneak peek of the documentary that was shared with 8News.

It was April 1998 when Waverly police officer Allen Gibson was gunned down in the woods behind the Waverly village apartment complex.

Ferrone Claiborne and Terence Richardson were named suspects. The case ended up in federal court and they were acquitted of the murder.

Juror Dawn White told 8News this last year this, "As I recall, no one ever really thought they were guilty of murder."

The men were convicted of a conspiracy to sell crack cocaine. In a rare move at sentencing, the judge used that murder charge as a cross-reference to give them an enhanced sentence of life behind bars.

"They just wanted this case closed,” Adams said.

To this day -- from their prison cells -- both Claiborne and Richardson maintain they're innocent. They also deny selling drugs -- and Adams believes them. He knows that sometimes the system can get it wrong. 

“I had an experience with the criminal justice system when I was 17 years old."

He was wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault and spent 10 years in prison.

While in prison, Adams started reading law books.

“Yeah, I took every opportunity to try to get as many people's attention as I could,” he said.

With help from the Wisconsin Innocence Project, he got out, became a lawyer and now fights for justice for others.

"I wanted to do the same thing, The Innocence Project did for me,” says Adams.

When 8News first began looking into the case, we found no physical evidence to tie the men to murder -- there was no blood, hair, fingerprints or DNA.

8News also found Claiborne and Richardson didn't match the suspect description.

It’s a big red flag for Adams.

“Days later, a state police officer interviewed her, typed up a statement, had her initial, it but noticeably it changes the description of the suspect. That's not an accident,” Adams said.

"I think it was deliberately changed.  It was deliberately, purposely changed to fit the narrative."

He's found other holes, too.

“Terence and Ferrone were seen on the other end of town,” Adams claims.

Adams taking on the case brings new hope to Ferrone’s sister Felisha who has always said investigators got the wrong guys.

"He has put himself there personally because he's been in the same position and he's walked the walk,” she says.

Adam tells 8News, "I am committed to seeing that this thing is righted."

He's asking investigators and lawmakers to reopen the case. He launched a Fundly page to help with the legal costs.

"It's been 20 plus years. They have been robbed of their lives, their childhood, their adulthood, they could have been grandparents by now,” Claiborne said.

"If someone is going to be in jail the rest of their life,  I just think you want to make sure you've got it right,” adds Adams.

The Commonwealth's Attorney for Sussex County tells 8News she has no intention of reopening the case.

The Sussex County sheriff says he can't say at this time -- he has to first talk with attorneys both past and present.

Gibson's family members declined to do an interview with us, but they have told us in the past they still believe investigators got the right guys.

In the video below, 8News Investigator Kerri O'Brien gives an in-depth look at the story and explains how we got here -- from the first call she received from one of the suspect's sisters to when a New York-based attorney came to down to examine the case

Find 8News on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.

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