In 1997, the Philadelphia office of Drinker Biddle & Reath along with Kenneth Frazier, Executive Vice President and President, Global Human Health at Merck & Co., Inc., secured the release of James Willie “Bo” Cochran from death row in Alabama. In 1982, Bo was found guilty of the shooting death of Stephen Ganey, an assistant manager at a grocery store. Bo was involved with a robbery at the store and after he left, police surrounded the grocery store. Nearly 20 minutes later, gunshots were heard. No eyewitnesses saw who killed Mr. Ganey.
In selecting the jury for the 1982 trial, the prosecution used seven of its fourteen peremptory challenges to exclude seven of the nine black members of the venire panel. Bo’s counsel did not object to the manner in which the State used its peremptory strikes. A jury of eleven whites and one black found Bo guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to death. The district court granted federal habeas relief after finding that Bo was denied effective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase of trial and that the prosecution improperly used peremptory strikes to exclude black jurors in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).
Bo was granted a new trial in which he was acquitted of the murder charge. Today, after spending 19 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, Bo is a free man. His case is featured in the documentary film “Death in Dixie.”