Richard Midkiff: A 38 Year Prison Sentence for Murder...And a Good Man
Richard Midkiff is a good man.
1996. Richard was 19 when he and J. Patrick Swett attempted to rob a suspected Orlando area drug dealer. Midkiff drove to the dealer’s house, handed Swett a weapon, and sat in the car while Patrick went in. A struggle ensued, the weapon discharged, and Swett returned to the vehicle to tell Midkiff a man was dead.
Both Richard Midkiff and J Patrick Swett were charged with First Degree Murder. Swett was given 38 and a half years in prison. Midkiff 38 years.
But Richard Midkiff is a good man.
Like many who turn toward crime, me included, Richard came from a rough childhood. A mother who chose abusive relationships over her son. Dropping out of school at an early age. Drug use before he reached his teen years. Sleeping on a friend’s sofa because he had no home to go to. Richard recalls in the 7th grade the only meals he remembers eating that entire year were furnished by a young schoolmate who bought him lunch every day at school.
Richard had it rough. Not surprising Richard would turn toward drugs and criminal activity. But not excusable. Many people have horrible upbringings and they go on to become productive, valuable members of society.
Richard didn’t. Richard went to prison for First Degree Murder. Richard was sentenced to 38 years.
There the story might end. It usually does. Someone commits First Degree Murder and they are sent to prison where society never has to see them again. Many of those inmates become violent in prison, join gangs, and die old men—behind the fence, angry.
The story might end there. But it doesn’t.
Weregild. It is an ancient Germanic word meaning “Man Price”, the price paid for a life taken. Our justice system determines that price as a number of years to be paid behind bars, and in extreme cases with the forfeiture of the murderer’s own life. But there is more to “Man Price” than just prison. When a life is taken, the person who takes that life owes society a debt. The world has been made a darker place because of their actions and it is their responsibility to do all they can to make the world a better place, to fill that darkness. Very few who are ever responsible for taking the life of another ever step up to pay that “Man Price”.
Richard did. Richard’s time is prison from day one has been spent trying to better himself and help his fellow man and their families. From dropping out of school at an extremely early age to getting his GED and becoming a paralegal. Working at the law library, he assisted numerous inmates in filing appeals and correcting unjust sentences. He instituted education and rehabilitation programs, along with family outreach programs like Story Time Dads which had inmates filmed reading bedtime stories to their young children at no cost to institution, family, or inmate. Richard’s entire life behind bars has been that of a model prisoner. He has always striven to help others and make himself better a better person.
J. Patrick Swett won appeal and was released after 24 years’ incarceration in the Florida Correctional System. Per the terms of Swett’s Plea Agreement, Richard Midkiff was to be sentenced to less time than Swett. When Sweet, the shooter, was released from prison, it also meant Midkiff was a free man.
Richard Midkiff walked out of June 2019, 15 years before he thought he might.
He has spent that year of Freedom being the best man he can. He immediately went to work as a paralegal where he works above and beyond the call of duty. I spoke to his employer who referred to Richard as irreplaceable. Richard has been hard at work working with NYU and FSU on legal programs to help prisoners and their families. He has joined the fight for prison and sentencing reform and Florida, and his voice has been noticed and increasingly listened to around the state. On the personal side, Richard recently became engaged and hopes to be married in April.
By all accounts, including the words of a Warden of 30 years in the Florida Correctional System, Richard is a good man, the picture of Redemption.
Now a disputed plea agreement may send Richard Midkiff back to prison for another 15 years. July 2nd, the Florida Board of Corrections notified Richard he would have to report back to prison to serve the remainder of his 38-year sentence. The reason? Both Sweet and Midkiff had interlocking please. Swett’s Plea clearly states that Midkiff will serve less time than Swett since Swett pulled the trigger. Midkiff’s plea agreement does have those words. Florida’s reasoning is that since Midkiff’s Plea doesn’t say it, then it doesn’t count—even though the pleas are interlocking and even though the prosecutor agreed to such during the plea acceptance and then the District Attorney’s Office Reaffirmed it a few years later during an appeal phase.
I read of Richard Midkiff 2 weeks ago after reading his story on MSN. I was getting ready to launch a new Podcast, The Unethical life, which examines what causes peoples moral compass to veer toward the dark. And whether they would ever be able to right their lives. Richard’s story seemed the ideal subject for my first episode. I reached out to Richard in Ocala, Florida with the intent of recording a session for the Podcast remotely.
Richard changed my mind. See, I’ve been to prison. I’ve served time. Most people in prison are very good liars. Most either buck the system and fight it constantly or they manipulate the system, faking their way through their time behind bars. As I talked to Richard over the phone, he didn’t appear to be either of those. He appeared to be honest, open, repentant, and redeemed. He appeared to be a good man. I felt the only way I would know for myself is if I drove to Florida to speak with him face-to-face. I could just imagine my first episode featuring a gentleman who had conned me into thinking he was something he wasn’t.
I talked to Richard Midkiff for over 2 hours. I asked him the hard questions. I looked at him in only the way another person who has served time in prison can. Richard never shied away from questions. He never hesitated. He often expressed regret for his actions while accepting responsibility for taking someone’s life. He spoke extensively and with humility about the people he helped in prison and his life now that he is released.
Toward the end of the I told Richard that my goal in life is not to be remembered as the person who stole everything, but as the person who was able to turn it around. I then told Richard he had already achieved that.
I walked away knowing I had met someone who had assisted in the murdering of another and as a result of that had decided to change their life to try to make the world a better place, not a worse.
I’ve included some links to stories about Richard below. Id ask you to read over them. If you feel Richard should have a chance to life live as a free man, I would ask you to sign the Change.org petition and to also share on social media with the hashtag #justiceforrichardmidkiff .