WAVERLY, Va. (WRIC) — Two Waverly men could be one step closer to walking out of prison, after Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring joined in a petition asking that a Virginia court overturn the conviction of at least one of the men in the case.

Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne have been locked for more than 20 years for a crime they say they didn’t commit. In court documents AG Herring writes, “The Commonwealth submits that Mr. Richardson should be granted a writ of actual innocence.”

“I was so relieved. My God, the first thing I said was thank you, Jesus ” said Annie Westbrook Richardson’s mother.

She told 8News she had always hoped someone would look at the case with an open mind, “Hopefully next year my baby will be home.”

It’s an unusual case.  A federal jury found Richardson and Claiborne not guilty of the 1998 murder of Waverly police officer Allen Gibson. Yet in sentencing, the judge used a plea deal the men took in state court to put the two behind bars for life.

8News first began exposing holes in the case back in 2017. The 8News investigation found no physical evidence to tie Richardson or Claiborne to the murder, and uncovered that the men didn’t match a witness description given to police.

Attorney Jarrett Adams later stepped in to expose new evidence that was never shared with the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the defense.

Earlier this year, Richardson and Claiborne filed a petition asking the Virginia Court of Appeals to overturn their state convictions. The Court asked AG Herring to respond, and his team investigated.

In referring to the new evidence and evidence not shared with the Commonwealth’s Attorney or defense they found, “This is a unique case in that it is also clear that no rational factfinder would have found Richardson guilty had that information been presented in his proceeding in state court.”

Claiborne is not named in this court filing.

The Appeals Court is taking up Richardson’s petition first since his state conviction involved a more serious charge, a felony. Claiborne’s charge was a misdemeanor.

Still, Adams believes what comes out of this response to the court could open the door to freedom for Claiborne too.

He said the response from the AG is significant, “It’s not just the defendants now. It’s not just Terrence and Ferrone claiming that they’re innocent. This is an attorney general, the highest legal position in the state, advising the appellate court to reach a decision of actual innocence because the evidence supports it.”

While this may be a great victory for the men, it’s not the final step. The appeals court will need to rule on the matter or hold a hearing. If the court does overturn their convictions, there will be more legal work to be done.

Still, that doesn’t worry Adams. He said “An actual innocence finding in state court are the keys to unlock the unjust federal handcuffs on both men.”

In an email Richardson wrote to 8News, “This has been some of the best news we’ve had in a long time. I pray to be home very soon.”

He also thanked everyone who fought both of them and he hopes for the Gibson family that now the real killers can be found.