Two Death Row Exonerees Passed Away in January 2024

Posted on Feb 05, 2024

Two of the 196 people who have been exonerated from death row in the U.S. died in a two-week span in January 2024. Their cases highlight the human costs of wrongful convictions and the challenges faced by exonerees. Clifford Williams, Jr. (pictured, left), who was wrongfully incarcerated for 42 years in Florida, died January 11, less than five years after he was freed. Michael Graham, Jr. (pictured, below), who spent 14 years on death row in Louisiana before being exonerated in 2000, died January 24.

Mr. Williams was convicted along with his nephew, Nathan Myers, in 1976. A judge overrode the jury’s sentencing recommendation for life and sentenced Mr. Williams to death. Mr. Myers, who was 18 at the time, received a life sentence. A 2018 investigation by the state’s first Conviction Integrity Unit found that no physical evidence linked the men to the crime, and that another man had confessed to several people that he committed the crime. Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Myers were exonerated in 2019. At the time of his exoneration, Mr. Williams told Florida Times-Union reporter Andrew Pantazi, “My mother died while I was on death row. I just wanted to get out and see my kids. There wasn’t nobody but them.” Mr. Williams’ daughter, Tracy Magwood, said at her father’s funeral, “My dad and I were always like two peas in a pod. … I always wanted to make sure whatever could be done was done for him.” But she noted that he missed out on big moments because of his imprisonment. “He didn’t get to walk me down the aisle. He wasn’t there when his grandchildren were born.”

Mr. Graham and his co-defendant, Albert Burrell, were sentenced to death in 1987 after prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense and presented unreliable witness testimony that was later recanted. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office said charges against them should be dismissed because of a “total lack of credible evidence.” Despite the official misconduct that contributed to their wrongful convictions, the two men were never compensated for the time they spent on death row. According to Witness to Innocence, Mr. Graham “was given a $10 check for transportation (bus fare cost $127 - his lawyer paid for it) and a state-issued denim jacket several sizes too large.” He later developed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) and could not work. In his final years, he relied on assistance from various anti-death penalty groups and had to set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover basic expenses.