See all of Amanda Knox and Christopher Robinson’s writing and interviews for Crime Story here.

Waverly, VA, Revisited

By Amanda Knox with Christopher Robinson

In September 2020, I interviewed exoneree and attorney Jarrett Adams about two of his clients: Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne of Waverly, Virginia. Theirs is a unique case. Richardson and Claiborne were found guilty and convicted in federal court of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, a charge for which they faced ten years in federal prison. However, their sentences were enhanced to life based on a related murder charge for which they had been acquitted by the same federal court.

How is that possible? Originally, Richardson and Claiborne had been charged in state court for the murder of Waverly Police Officer Allen W. Gibson Jr., who was shot while patrolling an apartment complex on the morning of April 25, 1998. No physical evidence or reliable eye witness testimony linked either Richardson or Claiborne to the crime, and they both maintained their innocence, but fearing the death penalty should the case go to trial, they each plead guilty in exchange for an extraordinarily lenient sentence: five years for Richardson, time served for Claiborne.

These lenient sentences led to a public outcry that Richardson and Claiborne face further charges. The family of Officer Gibson contacted the Department of Justice, which was legally able to charge the two men again for the same crime they’d already pled guilty to at the state level, provided that it was part of a criminal conspiracy. The federal jury found them guilty on the new drug conspiracy charge, but not guilty for the murder. Nonetheless, the prior guilty plea for the murder in state court was used to enhance the sentence for the drug charge from ten years to life in prison.

By the time Adams came to represent Richardson and Claiborne, they had already served over 20 years in prison. Adams’ goal has been to reinvestigate and uncover the exonerating evidence Richardson and Claiborne lacked when they originally pled guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. 

This is where I left Adams in September 2020. Now, nearly nine months later, Adams says he’s found what he’s looking for.

Amanda Knox  

Give me a sense of what you’ve been trying to accomplish since we last spoke.

Jarrett Adams    

Since we last spoke in September of last year, we were still investigating. We were still missing that last “aha!” The evidence of innocence, which was the identification of another suspect seen at the time running away from the scene, we believe that that information had not been disclosed to the defense attorney. 

Our belief has now been confirmed. We’ve been able to get in contact with the one remaining criminal defense attorney at the state level during the guilty plea proceedings, and also the Commonwealth who handled the case. We presented both with the information from the witness who identified someone else at the time, and they both provided affidavits saying that they never saw this information before, ever.

Amanda Knox   

Okay, so this would be a Brady violation ― exculpatory evidence that was never presented to the defense attorneys. Is that right?

Jarrett Adams   

Yeah. So to break it down, Amanda, when you are being accused of something, if investigators withhold the evidence that is favorable to your defense, that is a Brady violation. That is a violation of your civil rights. How can someone reasonably and knowingly and intelligently enter into a plea to waive their constitutional rights at a jury trial without having the evidence? You can’t do it. And that’s the situation that they found themselves in.

The threat of two African Americans down south getting found guilty and sentenced to death or life in prison for something that they didn’t do, that was not a folklore. It was a reality for so many cases during the era, and even now. Ferrone and Terrence value their family and their freedom, and so they did that deal in exchange for their family and their freedom.

Amanda Knox

Let’s talk about what evidence we have that this was committed by someone else. 

Jarrett Adams   

A person ID’d another suspect. This suspect who was identified, his sister lived directly above the crime scene. This witness not only identified the person, but a couple days after Terrence and Ferrone were arrested, there was a tip left on a hotline that corroborated exactly what the witness had said.

Amanda Knox   

I do remember that you said that there was a DNA profile obtained from the crime scene that did not match Terrence and Ferrone, but that it was never identified who that profile belonged to. Is that still true?

Jarrett Adams  

That’s a correct statement. There was a hair that was recovered from Officer Gibson’s clothing. The hair profile was of African American hair. That profile was analyzed, and the DNA results exonerated Terrence and Ferrone. It wasn’t a match. It wasn’t even close. We don’t know if that profile has ever been submitted into CODIS.

Amanda Knox    

Have you ever confronted the police about this genetic profile? Have they ever given any kind of response for that?

Jarrett Adams  

The response that we’re getting is no response at all. I submitted everything to the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General reviewed everything and basically told me about how they have a brand new, sparkly conviction integrity unit office that they plan to open up this year, and this seems like a case that they could evaluate and let us know if they want to take it or not. 

Does that sound like a good enough answer, when two innocent people may be in prison? Does that sound like a good answer to the family of Officer Gibson, if that means a real killer is out there? Does that sound like a good enough answer for the citizens of Waverly, who may still be living amongst someone who got away with killing a cop? Does that sound like a good answer for justice in general?

Amanda Knox

In Virginia, a conviction is final and no additional evidence can be considered after 21 days. If appeals are denied, the only way a court can exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted is through a Writ of Actual Innocence based on new or previously undisclosed evidence.

On April 9, Adams filed a Writ of Actual Innocence in the Virginia Court of Appeals based on the affidavits he obtained from David Boone, Richardson’s original defense attorney, and David Chappell, who prosecuted the case and negotiated Richardson and Clairborne’s guilty pleas. Each swore to having no knowledge that anyone other than Richardson and Claiborne had been identified as suspects at the time of the proceedings. 

On April 28, Adams received the Virginia Court of Appeals’ response: He was granted the opportunity to appear before the court to argue the case. The date for this appearance has yet to be set. In the meantime, Richardson and Claiborne continue to wait in federal prison, where they’ve been for over two decades, since 1998.  

Have you spoken to Terrence and Ferrone? How are they doing? Do they feel hopeful? 

Jarrett Adams    

I’m talking with Terrence and Ferrone on a weekly basis, and right now they have more hope than they’ve ever had. 

These cases are a table filled with puzzle pieces. You got to literally sit there, find one piece that connects to that piece until those pieces become an entire picture. And only then are you able to know exactly what you have and where you need to go in the case. Right now, they’re at the point now where it’s not just a table full of loose pieces. They actually see the entire picture, how it happened to them and the direction that we’re going in. So it’s easing their anxiety a bit.

Amanda Knox

Putting all of the loose pieces into their proper place impacts not just Richardson and Claiborne, but Officer Gibson’s family as well. Their plight is not lost on Adams.

Jarrett Adams  

Here’s what I realized about this thing, Amanda, and it was a humbling learning lesson for me. I assumed that the family knew and heard everything. They are doubly the victim here now. Not only are they dealing with the loss of Officer Gibson, they’re also dealing with the lack of transparency and a forced narrative. For all of these years, Amanda, this family has been going forward assuming that they had closure, when in actuality, it was anything but that.

I reached out to the family with all the facts that were uncovered in this investigation, to let them see it. And much of all of that they didn’t know. The only thing that they knew was Officer Gibson was shot, he died, they said that they got two guys and they said that these were the right guys. The end. Literally no physical evidence. No explanation how these guys could have gotten there, did this, and got to where they were seen very shortly after. Absolutely no detail to the allegations at all. And the family had no idea about it. And now, they’re not coming out saying, “We know Terrence and Ferrone are innocent.” They’re saying, “We want to know the truth.” 

Amanda Knox

Indeed, back in October 2020, Crissana Gibson, who was eight-years-old when her father was killed, released a statement expressing her feelings about the unresolved questions in her father’s case. “I want the persons responsible for my father’s murder to be held fully accountable for their actions,” she wrote. “If that is not Terrence and Ferrone, I want justice done for them AND IT MUST NOT STOP THERE. …The justice system will seek truth, right, and leave no further question about my father’s murder so that all involved can begin to heal. That is what my father deserves and it is what I demand.”

But despite this pressure coming from both sides ― the victim’s family and the defendants ― Adams says Virginia law enforcement, particularly the Attorney General, has been dragging their feet. 

 Do you have faith that this case is going to play out the way it should in a court of law?

Jarrett Adams   

You sometimes find that justice is stalled, delayed, and robbed in the court of law. But it could be revived off of its deathbed in the court of public opinion. For right now, these guys have been found not guilty of the thing that they were duped into pleading guilty for on the state level, that resulted in them being sentenced to life in prison. I think that people need to know about how something like this can happen, because the robbing of due process is a slippery slope, period. How they were sentenced to life in prison based on the state court guilty pleas, even though they were found not guilty by a federal court, that stands out from any other innocence cases that I’ve dealt with, or seen, or read about before. 

Amanda Knox    

If the court doesn’t rule in your favor, what happens?

Jarrett Adams   

Then we appeal that to the state Supreme Court. We’re also submitting an absolute pardon to the governor based on actual innocence. 

Amanda Knox  

If the state court rules in your favor, what happens?

Jarrett Adams    

If the state court rules in our favor, we immediately take this ruling, and we file a writ in federal court based on actual innocence. The ruling itself would be considered new evidence that the federal court has to consider to modify the federal sentence. Let’s say that we are able to overturn the federal conviction. Right now they are at time served. If it was just the drug conviction, they would have been out over 10 years ago.

 My question is why it’s so slow and sticky when it comes to what’s right in these cases. No matter what side of justice you fall on, whether it’s the right or the left, there’s no way you can say that it’s just that two people enter into guilty pleas when evidence of their innocence was withheld. If attorneys who handled the case have provided affidavits saying that they never saw evidence of innocence, explain to me, Amanda, what the holdup is?

It’s one of these things where it’s okay, if our food isn’t coming out right, to ask for a new chef. Even if that chef is one of the nicest people ever, it’s okay to request the new chef. In terms of justice for people, especially people of color, the chef just ain’t been right. The food isn’t coming out right, and has never come out right. And until we get the right meal, we got to keep changing the chef.

Amanda Knox

After 23 years, Richardson and Claiborne have never been closer to freedom. And yet, their futures are far from certain. Adams has managed to convince the Virginia Court of Appeals to open the doors of this case for further consideration, but there is no guarantee this will lead to the doors being opened for Richardson and Claiborne’s freedom, now or anytime soon. Still, Adams, who knows firsthand the long battle for justice, is in it for the long haul.