January 10, 2010

Volunteer Law Firm Highlights

Bingham McCutchen LLP

Volunteer attorneys at Bingham first accepted a death penalty case from the Project in 2005.  Neal Rosen, a partner in the Boston office, leads a team representing Walter Ogrod, who is on Death Row for the murder of a four-year-old girl in Philadelphia in 1988.  Mr. Ogrod was convicted in 1996 on the basis of a confession allegedly made under duress and testimony from a notorious jailhouse informant.  The firm, with assistance from the Philadelphia Federal Defender Association, has worked tirelessly on Mr. Ogrod’s behalf. 

On the other side of the country, another team of Bingham attorneys currently represents two Alabama Death Row prisoners.  Bill Abrams, a partner at the firm’s Silicon Valley office and a member of the Project’s Steering Committee, represents clients who received ineffective counsel during their trials.

In January, Bingham accepted a new pro bono death penalty case at the request of the Project. A team of Washington, DC attorneys now represents a Texas Death Row prisoner in his federal habeas proceedings.

The following is an excerpt of a letter (dated Jan. 2010) from a Texas Death Row prisoner thanking the Project and volunteer law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP for taking his case: 

“Hello there!  I hope this reaches you all in the Best of health & spirits!  I know I’m feeling out of this world right now.  I just can’t put it in to words how happy I am, thank you so much for all you’ve done.  For Believing and not giving up.  It means so much to me.  You all are special.  And will all ways carry a place in my heart for your dedication to what ya’ll do… [You] have pumped Life Back in to this cause, and you will never be forgotten.  I know its just what ya’ll do its your job, But you have touched our lives in a special way.  Ya’ll keep your head up.”

King & Spalding LLP

Justin Michael Wolfe was sentenced to death for allegedly ordering the execution of a Virginia drug dealer.  Last month the court granted Mr. Wolfe an evidentiary hearing on the basis of new evidence presented by his volunteer law firm.  The new evidence included testimony by Owen Barber, the triggerman in the murder and the only witness who tied Mr. Wolfe to the killing, who has now recanted his earlier testimony against Mr. Wolfe. 

"We’re pleased with the court’s opinion and we look forward to the opportunity to present the full case to the full district court," said King & Spalding partner James Griffin, a member of Wolfe’s defense team.

Mr. Wolfe satisfied the Schlup standard and thus all procedurally defaulted claims are no longer barred. The case has been assigned to a newly appointed Magistrate.

Congratulations to the team at King & Spalding, with the able assistance of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center and Michelle Brace, for their tremendous efforts on behalf of Mr. Wolfe.  Special thanks to James Griffin, Matthew P. Dullaghan, Steven Andrew, and former King & Spalding partner Jane C. Luxton.