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Florida judge denies justice for Richardson brothers

By staff |
April 16, 2013
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Students demand access to courtroom.
Students demand access to courtroom. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Tallahassee, FL - Nearly 30 community members and Tallahassee Dream Defenders attended a public hearing on April 12 in support of Antonio and Rodrizgus Richardson, two African-American brothers in Tallahassee. The brothers were wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and are facing 25 years to life in prison.

The Richardson brothers, 21 and 22 respectively, were accused of shooting James Bryant, 22, on Jan. 16, 2010 at a McDonalds drive-thru. Protesters pointed out the police found no forensic evidence linking the Richardson brothers to the murder and eyewitness testimony indicates that another man, Ken Governor, was the shooter. They say the Governor was linked to the murder weapon, recovered in a toilet tank inside a Tallahassee home.

The first trial of the Richardson brothers was declared a mistrial. The second trial featured a number of irregularities that led lawyers for the Richardson family to request a new trial. There were possible errors concerning statements of the co-defendants being used against one another. As well, the family was locked out of the courtroom during closing arguments. On April 12, Judge Sheffield presided at a public hearing to determine if he should grant a new trial.

The role of Judge Frank E. Sheffield in this miscarriage of justice is under scrutiny. The Dream Defenders are organizing to shine a light on the irregularities. Michael Sampson, a Dream Defender and senior at Florida State University said, “At the trial, Judge Sheffield stated that he wanted to get it over with quickly because it was he and his wife’s anniversary. Not only was it insensitive to the family, but it also shows that he didn’t seem to care about having a fair trial for these brothers as much as his personal life.”

Family, community members and students planned to pack the courtroom at the public hearing for a retrial. When several students and the father of the two boys attempted to enter the courtroom, they were given contradictory reasons why they were not allowed in, despite the visible rows of open seating inside. When the group persisted in demanding access, singing We Who Believe in Justice Cannot Rest, security escorted the group out of the court building.

The hearing ended with Judge Sheffield denying the brothers a retrial. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” said Brian Marshall, a Dream Defender and sophomore at FSU. “Judge Sheffield hasn’t been on the side of justice from the beginning.”

Sampson summed up, “Dream Defenders and the Richardson brothers’ family believe their wrongful conviction is typical of African-American youth being abused by the racist Florida justice system.”

Activists interested in joining the “Free the Richardson Brothers” campaign, making a donation to their legal fund, or receiving updates should join the Facebook fan page here: