RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The case of an Emporia man set to spend the rest of his life behind bars for a murder charge on which he was acquitted made its way to Virginia’s highest court on Tuesday, with the attorney on the case pleading for an evidentiary hearing.
Attorney Jarrett Adams, representing Terrence Richardson, was given 10 minutes to present his arguments to three justices of the Supreme Court of Virginia. Adams has also provided legal counsel to Ferrone Claiborne, but Tuesday’s oral arguments were specific to Richardson’s case.
“There are too many questions, and this case is too significant,” Adams told 8News before Tuesday’s afternoon’s Supreme Court of Virginia appearance. “This case is significant for the people of the Commonwealth. This is an accusation of an officer being killed in the line of duty. These are two men who pled guilty but were later found not guilty of the same accusation. That in itself should be enough to trigger the Commonwealth to find out exactly what happened and also give closure to the family of Officer Gibson.”
On April 25, 1998, 25-year-old police officer Allen Gibson, Jr. was shot in the abdomen with his service weapon near the Waverly Village Apartments. Gibson was taken to a hospital in Petersburg, where he died from his injuries.
Claiborne and Richardson were eligible for life in prison when charged with Gibson’s murder. Adams, although not representing them at the time, has argued that they entered a guilty plea in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. But when a federal jury acquitted the pair of Gibson’s murder, the judge used an unusual procedure to cross-reference the murder charge with separate drug offenses, and sentence the men to life behind bars for conspiracy to sell crack cocaine, which typically carries a much shorter sentence.
“In a case such as this, you have to have an evidentiary hearing before you can make a determination, and that is simply all we’re asking today,” Adams said. “Give these men the opportunity to be heard in court, because when they were heard in court, they were found not guilty.”
While in office, Attorney General Mark Herring backed the effort in a federal appeals court seeking to prove Richardson’s innocence. But current Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office then sent a letter to the Virginia Court of Appeals to reverse the state’s position in the case.
This point was argued in the Supreme Court of Virginia on Tuesday. Justices noted that it appeared Adams was asking them to set a precedent in which one law enforcement officer couldn’t change the stance of a law enforcement officer who came before them. However, Adams argued that the Commonwealth’s reversal in its decision on whether to support Richardson’s innocence was based off of policy, and not actual evidence.
Richardson and Claiborne contend they did not kill Gibson with his own handgun more than two decades ago in a wooded area behind the apartment complex, and questions have emerged over their case.
Gibson told a state trooper who arrived at the scene after he was shot that the gun “just went off” during a struggle with two men, one of whom had dreadlocks. Neither Richardson nor Claiborne had dreadlocks at the time of their arrest.
“Their spirits are high, but we’ve been here before,” Adams said. “Each and every time that I have to leave these innocent men behind those walls, it leaves a piece of me there, as well, and again, I ask again, does innocence matter?”
Adams told 8News that he is expecting to hear from the Supreme Court of Virginia within 60-90 days, but that he is also prepared to take the case to a higher level, the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. In October, he filed a presidential petition to ask Richardson and Claiborne’s sentences to be commuted.
“The Commonwealth has fought us every step of the way to get documents, to get the evidence that they need to prove their innocence,” Adams said before the justices on Tuesday. “There is no way they can do that without this court stepping in.”