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March 01, 2010

Volunteer Law Firm Highlights

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

In July 1999, Timothy McKinney was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death.  The prosecution’s case depended on testimony by two eye-witnesses, only one of whom could identify Mr. McKinney as the shooter.  There was no forensic evidence linking Mr. McKinney to the crime, and he has maintained his innocence since his arrest.

In 2007, a New York-based team of volunteers at Davis Polk & Wardwell agreed to represent Mr. McKinney in his post-conviction appeal.  Among the arguments presented were (1) that trial counsel failed to obtain and use contradictory statements to impeach the state’s star witness; and (2) that prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to trial counsel and falsely represented that certain evidence was either not exculpatory or not available. 

In March 2010, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals held that trial counsel had been ineffective in violation of Mr. McKinney’s Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel and concluded that the verdict was unreliable because the jury could not consider critical evidence that could have created reasonable doubt.  The unanimous panel vacated Mr. McKinney’s capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial.  The Project congratulates Mr. McKinney’s team at the Tennessee Office of the Post Conviction Defender and Davis Polk on their success!

Jenner & Block LLP

In 2004, 27 year-old Caroline Peoples plead guilty to four counts of first-degree murder for four separate fatal shootings that prosecutors said were motivated by money.  A defense team of volunteer attorneys at Jenner & Block LLP,  along with former Deputy State Appellate Defender Stephen Richards, counseled Ms. Peoples through her guilty pleas and prepared for her capital sentencing hearing.

With the help of mitigation specialists and investigators, the firm’s trial team put together an in-depth mitigation case detailing Ms. Peoples’ troubled life history.  On March 22, 2010, the state of Illinois agreed to drop its pursuit of the death penalty.  The lead prosecutor praised the mitigation presentation and said that dropping the death penalty was “the right thing to do.”  Ms. Peoples was sentenced to life in prison for her part in the four murders that took place in the summer of 2004 in Chicago. 

Ms. Peoples stated that “The day the [Jenner] lawyers took my case changed my life. Until that day, I did not know I was worth fighting for.”  Congratulations to the team Jenner & Block, including attorneys John Mathias, Jr. and Jeffrey Koppy, on their success!

King & Spalding LLP

A Virginia jury convicted Jerry Jackson of petty larceny, robbery, burglary, rape, and two counts of capital murder and recommended that he be sentenced to death.  A team of volunteer lawyers from King & Spalding agreed represent Mr. Jackson in his post-conviction appeal along with attorneys from the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center (VCRRC).  In March 2010 the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia overturned the death sentence, finding on seven separate claims that Mr. Jackson’s counsel had been ineffective at the sentencing phase of his trial.

Congratulations to the team at King & Spalding and the VCRRC!

If your firm is interested in sharing a success story with the Project, please contact us at [email protected]