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December 01, 2010

Law Firm Successes

Jenner & Block Wins Reduced Sentence for Jimmie Lucero (TX)

On September 15, 2010, volunteer attorneys John H. Mathias, Jr. and Jeff Koppy at Jenner & Block LLP (Chicago) secured a new sentence for Death Row prisoner Jimmie Urbano Lucero.  Mr. Mathias and Mr. Koppy argued that Mr. Lucero’s trial lawyers did a poor job of investigating his background and presenting mitigating evidence and ignored signs of his mental illness.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduced Mr. Lucero’s sentence to life in prison, with the chance for parole in 40 years.  Congratulations to the team at Jenner & Block for their work to secure justice for Mr. Lucero!

Skadden Wins Habeas Relief and New Trial for Quintez Hodges (MS)

On September 12, 2010, U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills set aside the sentence and conviction of Mississippi Death Row prisoner Quintez Wren Hodges based on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel.  The court found that the district attorney should have known that the testimony given by one of his witnesses was false, and that there was a reasonable likelihood that the verdict was affected by this false testimony.  The Project congratulates attorneys Justin Heather and Frances Kao at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom LLP and the several others on Mr. Hodges’ post conviction team on their success!

Davis Polk Wins New Trial for Timothy McKinney (TN)

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 eyewitnesses, 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!

Sidley Austin Secures Release of David Housler (TN)

On October 4, 2010, David Housler was released from prison after nearly 14 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.  Mr. Housler was convicted of killing four people in Tennessee in 1997, based on a false confession extracted through prosecutorial misconduct.  A team at Sidley Austin LLP led by partner Paul Hemmersbaugh successfully demonstrated the flaws and mistakes in the prosecution’s case.  Congratulations to the Sidley Austin team!

Dorsey & Whitney Exposes “Kafkaesque” Result in Case (TX)

On April 28, 2010, a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel refused to consider new evidence that might establish the mental retardation of prisoner Bruce Carneil Webster.  The court held that such evidence cannot be presented through a second or successor habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), because it relates not to his guilt but instead to his eligibility for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, which found the execution of mentally retarded individuals to be unconstitutional.  In a concurring opinion, Judge Jacques Wiener wrote that if a judge or jury were ever presented with the evidence Mr. Webster sought to introduce, he would undoubtedly be found to be mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty.  Judge Wiener agreed as a matter of law with the court’s ruling but expressed his “deep and unsettling conviction” that the law compels the court to “condone . . . an unconstitutional punishment.”  He referred to the outcome of the case as a “Kafkaesque result: Because Webster seeks to demonstrate only that he is constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty - and not that he is factually innocent of the crime - [the court] must sanction his execution.”  Steven Wells of the Minneapolis-based firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP represents Mr. Webster in his habeas proceedings.  Another appeal is planned.  Special thanks to the volunteers at Dorsey & Whitney for their tremendous efforts on behalf of Mr. Webster!

King & Spalding Wins New Sentencing Hearing for Jerry Jackson (VA)

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 to represent Mr. Jackson in his post-conviction appeal along with attorneys from the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center (VCRRC).  In March 2010 the U.S. 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!

Covington & Burling Wins New Trial for Larry Reynold Smith (AL)

On October 1, 2010, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for Death Row prisoner Larry Reynold Smith on the basis of trial counsel’s ineffectiveness, including their failure to investigate and present a thorough defense.  The failure to provide competent counsel to capital defendants and Death Row prisoners on appeal is a defining feature of many death penalty cases in Alabama.  We congratulate the team at Covington & Burling, including Keith Teel and former associates Jim Hanlon and John Fuson, for their dedication to Mr. Smith and his case!