The Narrative: How Two Acquitted Men Were Sentenced to Life 

Jarrett Adams  

Narratives are powerful things, Amanda. And you know that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Narratives are powerful things. The narrative that has been created is these guys are cop killers and drug dealers. And if they’re not cop killers, then they’re still drug dealers. Amanda, they’re neither of them. They’re neither.

Amanda Knox (Narration)

That’s Jarrett Adams, a criminal defense attorney representing Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne of Waverly, Virginia, who were sentenced to life for a 1998 crime they say they didn’t commit.

That same year, 1998, Adams was accused of rape after taking part in a sexual encounter during a party at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. His accuser claimed Adams and two of his friends had followed her to her dorm room and gang raped her, although another witness’s testimony contradicted her version of the events. Adams’ defense attorney failed to call that witness at trial, and Adams was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison. His conviction was overturned on appeal, but not before Adams lost nearly 10 years of his life to prison.

Jarrett Adams  

Unfortunately, my story isn’t unique. The prosecutor tried the case strictly and solely about the race of the parties involved. Me and my two friends were African American. Our accuser was a white girl. We would like to believe that as a society we’ve gotten past that, but we haven’t. We just simply haven’t. And so that’s really what my case was about. 

Jarrett Adams 

After the Wisconsin Innocence Project took on my case, they argued all the way up to the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit unanimously agreed that my attorney was ineffective for not going to find this witness. [The] trial was based on nothing but “he say, she say,” so the conviction was reversed. Case dismissed. I get out. I don’t have a record, but there’s no way to reverse the damage that has been done. There’s 10 years of my life that was taken. I went in when I was 17. I didn’t come out until I was turning 27 years old. I went to school. I graduated with my law degree from Loyola law school. I became inspired by the work. I wanted to not just say, “This is Jarrett Adams, wrongfully convicted, got out, the end.” I wanted to say, “This is attorney Jarrett Adams, who was wrongfully convicted, got out there, and became an attorney.” 

Amanda Knox 

Two of your current clients are Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne. What drew you to their case?

Jarrett Adams

I was at an event sharing my testimony with the Virginia Sheriffs Association, and while there, a lady came up to me who had some papers in her hand. She was in tears as she was giving them to me, and she told me she wanted me to look into the case. I get a lot of requests. I’ve never, ever gotten a case that is as egregious, as clear cut as this case is. 

Amanda Knox

Who was this woman? 

Jarrett Adams

Ferrone’s aunt, a lady by the name of Mary Claiborne. They were at their wits end. A family going through all of their retirement to try to get justice.

Amanda Knox (Narration)

In 2001, a federal jury found Richardson and Claiborne guilty of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, the penalty for which Adams says was a maximum of 10 years in federal prison. And yet, despite having no prior drug convictions, Richardson and Claiborne were sentenced to life. The judge justified this enhancement by finding them guilty of a related murder charge ― a charge for which they had been acquitted by the same jury. 

The official narrative of the murder goes like this: On the morning of April 25, 1998, Richardson, Claiborne, and another individual, Shawn Wooden, went to a low-income apartment complex called Waverly Village and obtained some crack cocaine. They then walked behind the complex into a sparsely wooded area. Twenty five year-old patrolling Waverly Police Officer Allen Gibson observed the three men and followed them, approaching them just as Wooden began smoking some of the crack. Officer Gibson ordered them to halt and attempted to apprehend Richardson by grabbing his T-shirt as he tried to run away. Claiborne then grabbed Officer Gibson from behind. During the ensuing struggle, Richardson got his hands on Officer Gibson’s gun and shot him in the stomach. Then Richardson, Claiborne, and Wooden fled the scene, leaving Officer Gibson fatally wounded.

This official narrative is largely based on the testimony of one of these three men, Shawn Wooden, and a resident of Waverly Village, Evette Newby. Both had extensive criminal records and, at the time, outstanding criminal charges for drugs, theft, and in Wooden’s case, sexual assault. In Adams’ view, these outstanding criminal charges compromised the reliability of their testimony, because they each potentially had a lot to gain by giving investigators what they wanted ― unequivocal eyewitness testimony. In the legal world, this is called incentivized testimony, and it is one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction. Adams also points out that not only were Wooden and Newby incentivized, they were inconsistent.

Jarrett Adams

Wooden initially told investigators that he knew nothing about the case. Then, after a day of interrogating and realizing that they weren’t going to let him go, he turns around and he says, “Yeah, I was there. I was with Terrence, and Terrence was supposed to meet Ferrone, and we was doing the drug deal.” 

Amanda Knox (Narration)

Evette Newby’s testimony was even more inconsistent, and delivered under pressure. She initially claimed she knew nothing about the shooting. She then claimed to have witnessed everything, and identified one of the attackers as an individual who was in prison at the time. Eventually, she was arrested, charged with contempt, and kept in federal custody. Only then did she agree to testify against Richardson and Claiborne. 

But not all the witnesses to this murder were incentivized.  

Jarrett Adams 

There were two witnesses who were immediately known to the police ― a 10-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl who were outside during the time that this happened. She states that she saw Officer Gibson come into the parking lot and drive out. About five to 10 minutes later she sees him come back into the apartment complex again. This time he parks towards the end of the apartment complex. The witness says she sees him get out of his car, walks towards the back. He didn’t seem rushed. He wasn’t running, no distress. Within five minutes of him walking behind this complex, they hear a gunshot and the 15-year-old girl hears what she believes is the officer saying he needs help. She goes to call the police. They arrive on scene within minutes. 

Jarrett Adams

So now, the investigators on scene, they take in the 10-year-old girl and the 15-year-old girl, and also the older lady who was chaperoning, they are questioning these witnesses. The 10-year-old girl wrote an entire three-page written statement describing in detail what she saw was a man run up a hill and run down the hill. And she described him “as a big, dark skin, ugly guy with dreadlocks.”

Amanda Knox (Narration)

Investigators also had the least, or perhaps most, incentivized witness of all ― Officer Gibson. He survived long enough to give his colleagues a description of his attackers. 

Jarrett Adams

The officer is shot in the abdomen. He’s not shot in the head. He’s not shot in the heart. He’s shot in the abdomen, and the bullet ricocheted off of the officer’s vest and severed an artery in his leg. The officer is bleeding, but he’s still conscious. They asked him what happened. He gives a description of two suspects, one wearing dreadlocks, short, the other being tall, bald head, and they were both wearing white t-shirts. 

Amanda Knox (Narration)

The official narrative is that Officer Gibson’s description, with a few minor inconsistencies, matched Richardson and Claiborne. But what were those minor inconsistencies? Neither Richardson nor Claiborne wore their hair in dreadlocks; Richardson had cornrows and Claiborne had a shaved head. Furthermore, multiple witnesses said they saw Claiborne wearing a basketball jersey that morning, not a white T-shirt. But perhaps the greatest discrepancy of all was the number of attackers. Officer Gibson said he followed two men behind the apartment complex, that he fought with two men. But Shawn Wooden and Evette Newby’s stories placed three men at the scene. 

And for Adams, there’s just something off about the whole official narrative of that fatal confrontation. 

Jarrett Adams 

Explain to me why an officer, in broad daylight, would be pursuing some suspects and not radio in, “Hey, I’m pursuing some suspects. I need backup.” Why would an officer pursue some suspects and not have his gun out and say, “Freeze”? Why would an officer who was just shot with his own gun not attempt to retrieve his weapon to fire at the fleeing suspects or make sure that they won’t use it again to finish him off? Explain to me why an officer who wasn’t fatally shot in the head didn’t grab his own radio and say, “Officer down. Shot. I need backup.” 

Jarrett Adams

Explain to me how this officer snuck up on two guys and they decided that they were going to wrestle with the guy instead of running. It doesn’t make sense.

Amanda Knox (Narration)

Waverly, Virginia is a small town, traversable by car in a few minutes. Richardson and Claiborne grew up there, and though they did not live at the Waverly Village apartment complex, they were known to many of the residents there. Richardson in particular had been seen hanging out with other men around the playground at night. Claiborne had a girlfriend who lived close by. But the morning of the shooting, both claimed to have been elsewhere. 

Jarrett Adams 

Terrence spent the night at Shawn Wooden’s house and woke up the next morning during the time that this officer was shot. He was on a couch in Shawn Wooden’s mobile home watching cartoons with his daughters. Shawn Wooden’s girlfriend even told investigators that at the time that this happened, Shawn was in bed asleep with her, and when she woke up to start working on the kids’ laundry, she saw Terrance on the couch with her kids. And that’s when the next door neighbor came over to tell all of them that somebody had just got shot in the Waverly Village apartments. 

Jarrett Adams

Ferrone would stay with his uncle when he came down to visit his girlfriend. Ferrone woke up on the couch the morning that this happened around 10 o’clock or so. He got dressed with a basketball jersey on and he walked from the uncle’s house towards where his girlfriend stayed, which was near the Waverly apartment complex. Ferrone’s cousins saw him walking and said hello to him. More importantly, Ferrone was seen by a sheriff’s officer who was en route to the scene where Officer Gibson was shot. Ferrone flagged the sheriff down and said, “Hey, hey, just what’s going on, man? Why is it so many police going on around here?” And that’s when the sheriff told him that an officer had been shot.

Amanda Knox (Narration)

But the investigators were not convinced by Richardson and Claiborne’s alibis.

Amanda Knox 

Who was investigating this case? Was this the Waverly police department?

Jarrett Adams 

The Waverly police department is who the officer worked for. The case was taken from them by the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office and assisted by the Virginia State Police.

Amanda Knox  

Why was that?

Jarrett Adams  

To be honest with you, there is no real explanation as to why that happened other than the Chief of Police at the time, Sturrup, when he saw an officer was shot, and his gun was found feet in front of him, literally right there on the spot, he panicked, and he picked the gun up with his hands and put the gun in his car. He never preserved any of the evidence that might have been on the gun. By the time the gun was fingerprinted, DNA tested, it came back with no one’s fingerprints. 

Amanda Knox  

Was there any forensic evidence to support any viable lead? What kind of evidence are we looking at?

Jarrett Adams  

There was a hair of some sort taken off of the officer. They ran the DNA. They also collected fibers. They did a search of Terrence’s home. They recovered a shirt that he used to use for cleaning gym shoes. They sent the shirt out to a lab to be analyzed. They also took DNA swabs from Terrence and Ferrone, and the evidence came back 100% not connecting them to anything. There was no DNA linking them. There was a profile obtained that didn’t match them and they didn’t have an identification of who that profile was. 

Jarrett Adams

A suspect who fit the description, whose sister stayed in the apartment complex, who was on bond for a gun charge, who was a known drug dealer, they don’t investigate him. 

Jarrett Adams

Amanda, look, something like this doesn’t happen without the people in power allowing it or encouraging it, period. 

Amanda Knox 

What do you mean? 

Jarrett Adams 

These guys are charged with killing a police officer. After they’re charged, they’re given a cash bond. Since when have you known anyone accused of killing a cop to be given a bond? Especially where this is a white officer killed in the line of duty allegedly by two black men. Have you ever seen that result in someone getting a bond?

Amanda Knox 

No, I can’t say. Usually it’s the death penalty.

Jarrett Adams 

Exactly. This is what I mean by the people who were in power. The court, the Commonwealth attorneys, the investigators ― they are all complicit. They either directly manipulated the evidence or they’re ignoring what is very obvious in this case, which is that they got the wrong people. 

Amanda Knox (Narration)

Whether because they knew they had the wrong people, or simply because they knew that their case was weak, the prosecution proposed an extraordinarily lenient plea deal that Richardson and Claiborne couldn’t refuse. 

Jarrett Adams 

The plea deal was Ferrone to get a year for accessory after the fact, which is time served. He was released immediately. Terrance received a five year sentence. They both did this because they were told that if found guilty, they will be sentenced to death. And it’s about what you can prove. And what they could prove was that they were two poor black guys with nothing more to support their claim of innocence then friends and family. When they did that, they thought it was over with, Amanda. They thought it was resolved. 

Amanda Knox (Narration)

It was not resolved, for Officer Gibson’s family was distressed that their loved one’s murderers effectively got off with a slap on wrist, and they reached out to the Department of Justice for a more appropriate remedy.

Amanda Knox 

How is it even possible for Terrence and Ferrone to be charged again with the same crime?

Jarrett Adams 

There’s a federal rule. The state guilty pleas didn’t prevent the feds from trying them for murder as long as they used it in a criminal conspiracy. 

Jarrett Adams

The Department of Justice orchestrated a drug operation team to go down to Waverly and build the case. They purchased as many undercover buys from drug dealers that they knew, they arrested those drug dealers, and they told them that they were going to sentence them to ungodly amounts of time if they didn’t offer up statements that Terrence and Ferrone were involved with dealing drugs. So these men gave testimony that they bought drugs from Terrence and Ferrone all the way back from 1993, which would place Ferrone as a 15-year-old in eighth grade.

Amanda Knox  

Did they ever find drugs on Terrance and Ferrone?

Jarrett Adams  

There was never any drugs found. There was never any drug paraphernalia. There was never any drug proceeds. There was never any cars in baby mamas’ names. There was no houses in other people’s names. There was no jewelry. There was no gold chains. There was no fancy cars. There was never recorded phone calls of drug deals. There was never undercover buys of drug deals from Terence and Ferrone. Nothing at all. Nothing besides the testimony of people who were caught selling drugs and were testifying in exchange to get out of prison themselves. 

Amanda Knox (Narration)

In the federal trial, prosecutor David Novak dismissed this lack of evidence of drugs, drug paraphernalia, and drug proceeds connected to Richardson and Claiborne by depicting them as incompetent addicts: “These two weren’t the two biggest drug dealers in the world because they weren’t the best drug dealers in the world, because their problem was they would sell the drugs in order to use it. …they’re out there hustIing, selling drugs, getting drunk, getting high, basically, constantly.” But Adams says this is all a fantasy concocted out of incentivized testimony, and that each drug dealer arrested by the FBI was given immunity for their federal drug charges in exchange for their testimony against Richardson and Claiborne. 

Amanda Knox 

What was the outcome of that trial?

Jarrett Adams 

They’re found not guilty of the murder. The jury did find them guilty of one drug count ― what’s called in the legal field “split the baby.” They’ll find guilty on a lesser charge because they say to themselves, “Well, there’s no way that the government would be bringing this if they didn’t do something.” There was a juror who was interviewed after the fact who said that, “We knew they weren’t guilty of this murder and we only thought that they would get a little time for some drugs, but we didn’t even really have the evidence to support that.” So that is what happened. The jury found them guilty of the drugs, and what is commonly referred to as relevant conduct, the Federal Court was able to use acquitted conduct and enhance the sentence to a life sentence as if the jury came back with a finding of guilt.

Amanda Knox 

How was that able to happen? 

Jarrett Adams

There’s a United States Supreme Court decision called United States versus Watts. A 1997 case. It gave permission for the district court to make a finding of guilt by a preponderance of the evidence, even if the person is found not guilty during the trial. So, if the person is tried of multiple things, and they’re found guilty of some things but not the other things, the court can use its discretion to sentence them as if they were found guilty. In this case, the court used their [previous] guilty pleas as admissions. Had it not been for the court using that relevant conduct and enhancing the sentence, both men would have been free years ago.

Amanda Knox (Narration)

This is where the case becomes controversial. Adams says this legal maneuvering by the government was unusual, extreme, and downright unjust. Of course Richardson and Claiborne pleaded guilty when they were first charged with murder in state court, regardless of their innocence; what’s five years in prison when you’re risking the death penalty? But for the federal judge to then go around the jury’s acquittal, and to sentence Richardson and Claiborne to life in prison because they had previously pleaded guilty in state court…that was a legal sleight of hand which forced a guilty verdict and an enhanced life sentence in spite of the evidence and the opinion of the people.

Amanda Knox

So this is 1998. This is in the midst of the tough-on-crime circus where we were just enhancing, enhancing, and enhancing sentences to make de facto life sentences for people. We were seeing in this time period people being given life sentences for stealing a can of coffee because it happened to be their third strike. We’re seeing today a lot of questioning of those kinds of sentencing practices. Has that new movement to relook at these enhanced sentences touched Terrence and Ferrone? Have they at all benefited from that kind of new look at these sentencing guidelines? 

Jarrett Adams  

The thing is, when you read the opinions on their appellate decision, it always starts with a matter of fact representation that they are guilty of killing this officer. You’re never going to get anyone to get past that and find sympathy for how the drug laws were applied, because in their case, they weren’t enhanced because of the drugs. They were enhanced because of the false guilty plea of the officer’s death. 

Amanda Knox (Narration)

Indeed, for over 20 years, Richardson and Claiborne have been unsuccessful in each and every effort to achieve post-conviction relief. Most recently, President Obama denied their clemency petitions in 2017. Adams is convinced that the reason Richardson and Claiborne have been summarily overlooked is because of optics ― because the racist cop-killing-drug-addict narrative has won out over reason. At least, for now.

Amanda Knox 

What is the current status of this case? What options do Terrance and Ferrone have in being found innocent?

Jarrett Adams 

I am putting the finishing touches on a motion for an actual claim of innocence and right now. What I need is this: a million signatures on a petition that I’ve started. You can go to the website, NotGuiltyServingLife.org. When this filing is made in November, it needs to have a petition of a million people so officials know that whatever decision that they make, the public eye is watching them. When you have lack of transparency, people do and they can do whatever they want. And in this case, there has been no true transparency. So if we get the public’s attention on this case, then I believe that it will better their chances at getting the relief that they deserve.

Amanda Knox  

It sounds like you have become really personally invested in these two guys.

Jarrett Adams  

Yeah, I mean, it’s just heartbreaking to think that in today’s society, we still have folks who believe more in finality than they do justice. It keeps me up at night. I’ve tried to get the attention of this case. I know there’s always a case out here to look at. I challenge anyone to find a case more egregious than this one. And if that’s the case, then we all can agree we need to hold people accountable who allowed this and continue to allow this injustice to go on.

Amanda Knox 

Any final thoughts before I let you go?

Jarrett Adams  

This injustice is a slippery slope. Don’t think for a second that it can’t happen to you or a loved one. We have to care about what’s in our backyard, and we can’t do that if we’re allowing innocent people to sit in prison. Justice should be a two way street. If you find the wrong person is in jail, you should get them out immediately and as fast as possible, just in the same fashion that you put people who you believe are guilty in prison. Terrence and Ferrone need your help. The court of law has failed them. So now it’s up to the court of public outcry to make this justice come to fruition.