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Damages sought in wrongful death lawsuit against Richard Gordon

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Richard Gordon of Viola, who is serving a life sentence for the 2009 murder of Joseph Clifton, has been served with a civil lawsuit. While Gordon is confined to Cummins Prison, Clifton's family is seeking a judgement of monetary damages against him for causing Clifton's "wrongful death". Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
Richard Gordon, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of his neighbor, may soon return to Fulton County Circuit Court on another matter -- a request that he pay damages for taking Joseph Clifton's life.

On Feb. 17, attorney Sach Oliver filed a Complaint for Damages -- a lawsuit seeking "damages for wrongful death, arising out of the injuries sustained by gunshot wounds inflicted by Richard Gordon on or about Sept. 3, 2009 in Fulton County, Arkansas."

"The family (of Joseph Clifton) believes it was wronged," Oliver told The News. "The civil court system allows for wrongful death lawsuits, and they want to pursue a claim for losing their loved one."

Gordon, 64, of Viola was arrested on Sept. 3, 2009 after the body of Joseph Clifton was found in his vehicle, at a gate leading to his home. Clifton's young son had been left in the vehicle with his wounded father.

Gordon and other neighbors had been involved in a dispute with Joseph and Denise Clifton after they installed the gate across the lane leading to their home. The neighbors claimed the Clifton's had blocked a public road they used to reach their properties.

After a Fulton County jury deadlocked in 2010, Gordon was found guilty of murder in the first degree in July of 2011, after a re-trial in Stone County Circuit Court. Gordon was sentenced to life in prison, plus 15 years for the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

In preparation for filing the wrongful death lawsuit, Judge Tim Weaver approved a Feb. 2 request that Denise Clifton-Jones be appointed Special Administrator of the Estate of Joseph Clifton. The appointment allows Clifton-Jones to oversee Clifton's estate. The filing indicates Clifton died intestate (with no will).

The lawsuit states that, "The actions of Richard Gordon in pointing a loaded gun at Joseph Clifton and failing to call for help in reviving him after he was shot, were negligent and were the proximate cause of death of Joseph Clifton."

The filing continues, "Accordingly, Plaintiff (the estate of Joseph Clifton) brings this cause of action for the negligent wrongful death of Joseph Clifton and seeks all damages allowable under the law."

The lawsuit does not name an amount of damages the family believes it should receive. It notes, however, the plaintiff is, "entitled to recover from the Defendant (Gordon) for the following elements of damages: loss of life; pecuniary injuries; medical expenses; funeral expenses; loss of consortium; conscious pain and suffering; and mental anguish suffered and reasonably certain to be suffered in the future by his wife and statutory beneficiaries."

Oliver said he intentionally did not list a specific damage amount.

"I believe it is up to a jury to place a value on life, how precious it is," Oliver said. "I look forward to seeing how a Fulton County Jury will value Joseph Clifton's life."

Oliver was asked whether Gordon and his family have assets to pay for damages, after hiring two attorneys to represent him at trial.

"There is a farm asset," Oliver replied. "Hopefully, future discovery will bring to light other assets. It is also possible that Gordon's homeowners insurance policy provided coverage for his negligence."

According to Oliver, he is waiting to learn who will represent Gordon, and to receive a response to the lawsuit.

Because of testimony and evidence presented at the two murder trials, Oliver does not believe extensive new depositions will be needed before the case can come to trial.

"Once we know who is representing Mr. Gordon, we will request a hearing and that a trial date be set. I hope that can be done in the next 30 to 60 days."

Gordon testified at his re-trial that he shot Clifton in self-defense, after Clifton reached for a rifle in his truck.

Gordon expressed regret at returning to his home after the shooting, instead of calling for help for Clifton's young son, who was left in the vehicle.

While Gordon told the jury he did not agree with its guilty verdict, he said, "I am not surprised at the verdict, because I made a lot of mistakes and Joseph Clifton wound up dead."

Denise Clifton-Jones addressed Gordon before he was sentenced saying, "Mr. Gordon, there are no words to describe the tragedy you caused. Joseph Clifton was a loving husband, father and friend...You will never understand what a horrible thing you have done to our community, to me, but most of all, to Jenkins. You have robbed him of his future with his daddy."

Richard Gordon was taken into the custody of the Department of Correction shortly after the July guilty verdict.

The lawsuit indicates Gordon "is a resident of the Department of Corrections, Cummins Unit, 3001 Hwy. 388, Grady, Arkansas."

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