RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Office of the Attorney General is now actively investigating the case of two Black Virginia men sentenced to life despite a jury finding them not guilty of murdering a white police officer.
Ferrone Claiborne and Terrence Richardson have already served more than 20 years for the 1998 murder of Waverly police officer Allen Gibson, all while maintaining their innocence.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s Conviction Integrity Unit is taking on the case – the news of the Integrity Unit’s involvement comes after some have accused Herring of dragging his feet on the potential injustice. The attorney general’s office disagrees and tells 8News that just because they haven’t publicly spoken about the Integrity Unit’s involvement before now doesn’t mean they were not involved until now.
We’re told the office generally doesn’t comment on pending investigations.
It also appears the Virginia Court of Appeals will hear Claiborne and Richardson’s case. A judge has granted their out-of-state attorney permission to argue the case.
News of the Conviction Integrity Unit’s involvement is a sudden shift. The attorney general’s office now tells 8News that the process of reviewing their case is “well underway.”
According to a statement from the office, “the Unit has requested and received the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s case files and they have begun interviewing fact witnesses from this decades-old case.”
The news comes after State Delegate Jay Jones, who is running against Mark Herring for Attorney General, has been critical of Herring’s handling of this case among promises of criminal justice reform.
He said, “We have two men who are potentially rotting away in jail based on bad evidence or faulty evidence.”
Jones believes Claiborne and Richardson deserve a full review of their case now that new evidence has come to light.
“There is certainly exculpatory evidence that was not available that was not in front of us and to me that screams for re-examinations,” Jones said.
Officer Allen Gibson was gunned down while on duty in the woods. Claiborne and Richardson were accused of the crime and were facing the death penalty. They took plea deals as an alternative to capital punishment.
But they have always insisted they didn’t do it.
Still, a federal judge used the plea deals to lock both men up for life. “They just needed a scapegoat for it,” Richardson told us.
For years, 8News has been digging into the case and exposing flaws in the investigation. 8News shared those findings with the Attorney General’s office in 2017.
Yet, Herring appeared reluctant to step in citing the federal complications with the case.
Last month, 8News reported Claiborne and Richardson filed Writs of Innocence in court to seek a reversal of their state convictions. The court documents reveal new evidence, a witness statement, a photo line-up and a tip line that all lead to another suspect.
Jarrett Adams, attorney for Claiborne and Richardson, found none that of the new evidence was ever shared with the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the defense lawyer at the time.
“We approached the Attorney General with that case last year,” said Adams.
After the news report in April, 8News asked if the Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit would take on the case. We were told:
“We are aware of this matter and the Conviction Integrity Unit has been looking into it for quite some time. It’s important to note that these two men were charged with and convicted of federal crimes and are serving federal sentences, not state sentences, so an ultimate resolution would have to come through the federal courts.”
“The two men have now filed petitions for writs of actual innocence in state court challenging some underlying state convictions that contributed to the length of their sentences, so the next step will be for Virginia’s Court of Appeals to review the petitions and either resolve them on its own or ask for a response from the Commonwealth.”
8News has now been told in part that the Conviction Integrity Unit was made aware of the case months ago and an attorney met with the unit twice over the winter.
The unit has been interviewing people for about a month now and continuing with other “investigative activities.” A spokesperson says there was no announcement following the beginning of their involvement with the case because they do not typically comment on pending investigations.
Claiborne and Richardson’s attorney Adams told us, “It is news to me.”
While the attorney for the men welcomes this step, he says it’s the first he’s heard of it.
“You would think that the natural person to have a conversation with is me, the attorney. I have not had one single conversation with any attorney out of the Conviction Integrity Unit,” said Adams.
Herring has declined numerous requests for an interview.
In an email we’re told, “Attorney General Herring’s Conviction Integrity Unit has been engaged on this issue for months.”
Adams says ultimately the state should want to make sure they got the right guys and that Officer Gibson’s killer isn’t still out there.
He asked, “How can anyone not care about what happened to officer Gibson that day?”