The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Not Guilty but Sentenced to Life

Feb 6, 2023

Two working-class men are still being held in federal prison in Virginia, 21 years after they were acquitted of murder charges.

Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne were effectively tried twice for the same offense. A Virginia court sentenced them in 2000 for involuntary manslaughter in the 1998 killing of Waverly, Virginia police officer Allen Gibson. The state prosecutor threatened them with the death penalty, and they followed their lawyer’s bad advice to plead guilty, even though they denied killing Gibson.

But police groups dissatisfied with their sentences pressured the FBI to charge them in federal court. The FBI charged them with murder, under the “dual sovereignty” principle which lets a federal court try someone after a state court already has. The federal jury found them innocent of murder. They did not look like the suspects Gibson described before his death: different height, hair, and clothing.

But the FBI also charged them with drug dealing. On the basis of very flimsy witness testimony and no hard evidence, the same jury convicted them of drug dealing charges, which they also deny. The federal judge then sentenced them to life in prison, as if the jury had found them guilty of the murder charge.

According to the “acquitted-conduct sentencing” federal law, a judge may use a lower standard of proof when sentencing than a jury must use when deciding guilt. In effect, a judge can override a jury at will.

The capitalists’ legal system always has plenty of such loopholes when it comes to making sure the law oppresses working people.