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James Joseph Richardson Bio

James Joseph Richardson (born c. 1935), a farm worker, was convicted in May 1968 of murdering one of his seven of his children that had died by poisoning with the pesticide parathion. He was sentenced to death. The poisonings occurred on October 25, 1967 in Arcadia, Florida. The prosecution claimed that Richardson had purchased life insurance policies on his children the evening before their deaths. Police officers testified that they found a sack of parathion in Richardson's shed. Additionally two jailhouse informants testified that they heard Richardson incriminate himself. Following the conviction, a defense investigation revealed that Richardson never bought life insurance for his children. Three police searches of his home and shed turned up no evidence of parathion. However, a neighbor, Betsy Reese “found” parathion in Richardson’s shed following the police searches. On the day of the children’s deaths, Betsy Reese babysat Richardson’s younger non-school age children, and had fed his older children when they stopped home from school to eat lunch. Richardson and his wife had prepared breakfast for the children that morning and both left for work before the children got up. They picked fruit miles away and did not have their own transportation. Parathion was found on the breakfast plates and in the grits pot used to serve breakfast. However, none of the children showed signs of poisoning until immediately after they returned to school following lunch. The babysitter, Betsy Reese, had been convicted of murdering her first husband, apparently due to jealousy. She was suspected of poisoning her second husband. After a visit by Richardson’s sister-in-law, Reese’s third husband accompanied the sister-in-law on her return home to Jacksonville. When he did not return, Reese, who lived next door, was apparently upset and stopped visiting the Richardsons. Reese resumed her visits just days before the children’s deaths. Years later while Reese was living in a nursing home, she confessed to killing the children, but the prosecution discounted her confession as due to her senility. The state’s case file was stolen by Arcadia resident Remus Griffin and wound up in independent hands and revealed extensive exculpatory evidence that was withheld from the defense. In response, the Dade County State Attorney, Janet Reno, was named special prosecutor to examine the case. Based on her conclusions that a grave injustice had been done, charges were dropped against Richardson and he was released in 1989. The case is the subject of a book, “Arcadia” by Mark Lane. In his book, "Between Good and Evil" by Roger L. Depue, the former chief of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit argues that James Richardson was guilty of killing his seven children. He states that Betsy Reese blamed herself because she was the one who fed the children the lunch prepared by the parents, not that she was the one who actually poisoned the children, and that James Richardson previously had a three year old son whose death was ruled to be of natural causes but the symptoms were the same as if he had also been poisoned. Depue recommended that the body of this child be exhumed because parathion can be found in the remains of a body even years after death. After his release Richardson filed a lawsuit against DeSoto County for his wrongful prosecution that was settled for $150,000. Richardson also sold the movie rights to his story for $20,000, but the movie was never made. On August 25, 2008, the 73-year-old Richardson filed a claim under Florida's wrongful conviction compensation law enacted in July 2008. The law provides for $50,000 per year, so Richardson could be awarded over $1 million.