It was the early morning of May 2, 1976 when Jeanette Williams was shot in her bedroom in Jacksonville, Florida. Williams died as a result of her injuries, while her partner, Nina Marshall, survived her own gunshot wounds.
Marshall pretended to be dead until a few minutes after the gunmen left. She then left the apartment to flag down a motorist who took her to the hospital. She told police Williams was still at the apartment. Police went to the apartment and found a crowd had gathered outside.
Marshall told police she was shot by Clifford Williams, Jr. (no relation to Jeanette), who owned a pool hall and dealt heroin, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Marshall claimed Williams shot her and Jeanette over a $100 debt. Within an hour of the shooting, Williams was arrested since he was in the crowd of onlookers. Also in the crowd was Nathan Myers, Williams’ nephew who had approached police and identified Jeanette. Williams was 33, Myers was 18 and had no violent criminal record.
Police spoke to most of the approximately 40 attendees of a nearby party who knew Jeanette and Marshall. Those who spoke to police all said Williams and Myers were at the party when the shots were fired. Within hours, the two men were tested for gunshot residue but the tests came back negative.
Still, Myers and Williams were arrested and charged. Their first trial ended in a mistrial, but they were convicted after a second, two-day trial that relied on six witnesses but no forensic evidence. Marshall was the one who placed Williams and Myers in her bedroom.
Problems with Marshall’s testimony were evident from the start. She said she and Jeanette were shot by two men standing at the foot of their bed, each firing a weapon and emptying their chambers. Police only found six fresh bullets, all .38 caliber. Jeanette was discovered to have a .32 caliber bullet in her from an old injury.
The women’s bedroom was also small and cramped, with the foot of the bed difficult to get to. Police also found glass on the bed and holes in the window curtains and screen, indicating the shots came from outside the room.
Both men were convicted – Myers received a life sentence and Williams was sentenced to death, but it was later reduced to life. Myers appealed his conviction but lost. In early 2017, after 40 years in prison, Myers learned of the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in the State Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. He reached out and began working with the unit to clear his name. While Marshall died in 2001, as had many of the alibi witnesses at the party, investigators were able to determine that the shooting had to have occurred outside for the partygoers to have heard it.
CIU investigators also discovered police had spoken to a man who claimed to others that he had seen a man shooting outside the women’s bedroom. He would tell police he saw nothing, but later failed a polygraph test.
CIU found that a man named Nathanial Lawson confessed to the crime before his death in 1994. With this and other evidence, Williams and Myers were finally cleared and released from prison in early 2020 – 43 years after they were first convicted.
The Florida Times-Union reported that the Florida state House Civil Justice Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill that would provide Williams with $2.15 million for the time he spent in prison. The bill now heads to the House and then the Senate before it would be signed by the governor.