In 1971, a man named Gregory Harris was murdered. Richard Phillips, an autoworker, was convicted of the crime and spent the next 45 years in prison.
The problem? Phillips was innocent. Instead, it was the star witness during the trial who framed Phillips, and it took his alleged partner-in-crime, Richard Polombo, decades to admit that Phillips was innocent.
“After serving 38 years, a man named Richard Polombo, also accused, admitted that he lied,” Phillips’ Art Facebook page states. “He NEVER knew Phillips, NEVER met him, NEVER planned a murder with him.”
“This was in 2010. However, Richard Phillips didn’t hear about this until the Innocence Project got wind of the admission by Polombo in 2014 … four years after the admission.”
According to People, Phillips knew he was innocent and didn’t despair. He was sure the truth would be revealed.
After a team of Michigan law students took up his case, his innocence was proven and he walked free in 2017.
But 45 years had passed. Phillips was a 71-year-old when he left the prison system he’d wrongfully spent over half his life in, with no career and no money to support himself on.
There was a small silver lining, though: He hadn’t spent his time idly.
“In 1990 Richard Phillips began to paint,” his art page explains. “He painted to stave off the loneliness. He painted to break up the monotony. He painted to fill the long days. He painted to keep his heart soft and hope alive.”
“He had no intention of pleading to a lesser crime for less time. His convictions were strong and he never wavered; he was an innocent man. In fact, Richard told his attorney, ‘I’d rather die in prison, than admit to a murder I did NOT do.'”
As mentioned by People, while in prison, Phillips was not allowed to keep his paintings. He sent them to a friend for safe-keeping, and upon his release, hundreds of paintings were waiting for him.
Once he was released, he began to offer some of his paintings for sale to offset his living costs. He didn’t want to, but frankly, he didn’t have a choice.
“These are like my children,” he told The Associated Press. “But I don’t have any money. I don’t have a choice. Without this, I’d have a cup on the corner begging for nickels and dimes. I’m too old to get a job.”
According to People, Phillips has sold his paintings for thousands of dollars. Eventually, he was given $1.5 million in compensation from the state of Michigan.
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