Annie Mae Richardson wept and raised her hands to the heavens when a judge, citing an unfair trial, ordered her husband freed after serving more than 21 years in prison in the poisoning deaths of his seven children.
Although she arrived at the courthouse late because she had gone to the cemetery to visit her children's graves, the wife of James Joseph Richardson was on hand Tuesday when the order was made by retired De Soto County Circuit Judge Clifton Kelly."I feel real good," she said after the hearing, tears welling up in her eyes. "God bless every one of you."
Kelly ordered Richardson, convicted in 1967 of poisoning the rice and beans that killed his seven children, released from prison Tuesday, citing prosecutorial misconduct during his trial. He was released into the custody of his lawyers.
The judge refused, however, to dismiss the murder charge against Richardson and gave prosecutors 10 days to decide whether to seek a new trial or drop the case.
"I want to thank you all for being with me and fulfilling the love we have shared with one another," the 53-year-old former fruit picker told supporters outside the County Jail. "You are some special people. You are to be united and joined together forever. May God bless you all. I wish you the best."
Richardson then headed across the state to a restaurant in Daytona for a shrimp dinner, defense lawyer Mark Lane said. "He said he has been thinking about shrimp for 21 years," Lane said.
Kelly ruled that prosecutors withheld valuable evidence from the defense, including statements by key witnesses given to prosecutors before Richardson's trial in 1967.
"The jury should have had all the testimony," the judge said. "When they did not have the previous statements to compare, they didn't have a full picture of the case. There is a reasonable probability the outcome could have been different."