In 1987, a Georgia jury convicted Larry Lee of killing a couple and their teenage son and sentenced him to death. More than 20 years later, volunteer attorneys from Ford & Harrison succeeded in overturning his sentence. The court’s order condemned both the State’s case and the performance of Larry’s trial attorney, saying “[n]ot only was the state’s evidence in this case ‘thin,’ but what is more devastating is that trial counsel’s preparation for and performance in the penalty phase is even ‘thinner,’ the investigation and preparation being nonexistent.” The attorney general chose not to appeal the decision.
The 200-page opinion reprimanded the State for the “full spectrum of prosecutorial misconduct” in the original trial, including withholding information and presenting arguments that prosecutors “knew or should have known were untrue.” Judge McCorvey called the trial case against Larry “flimsy” and “weak,” noting there was no forensic evidence that pointed to Larry as one of the perpetrators in the murders. Larry was convicted solely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch and Sherry Lee, his brother’s wife and the getaway driver, who was granted immunity. Prosecutors failed to disclose that the jailhouse informant, a convicted burglar, had been previously rewarded several times for testifying against other defendants. In exchange for his testimony, the informant was transferred from prison to the more comfortable county jail and granted special privileges. Ms. Lee’s testimony was also suspect. She denied knowing about the killings multiple times, but these prior statements were never made available to defense attorneys. Ms. Lee’s later inconsistent statements implicating Larry were made after she was granted immunity and told that she would be eligible for a $25,000 reward if she cooperated.
Larry’s volunteer counsel from Ford & Harrison were instrumental in exposing the state’s misconduct and the fundamental injustice of Larry’s trial. The court wrote: “Fairness cannot be stretched to the point of calling this a fair trial.”