March 01, 2017

Winston & Strawn Wins Reversal of Death Sentence on Brady Grounds

Congratulations to the team at Winston & Strawn LLP that won reversal of the conviction and death sentence for their client, Andrew Thomas! On February 27, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned Mr. Thomas’s conviction and death sentence, and about two months later, the court denied the State’s petition for rehearing en banc. This case represents a huge win for Mr. Thomas and has established important new precedent regarding prosecutors’ disclosure obligations.

Mr. Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death for robbing an armored truck and killing a guard. He was prosecuted and convicted in both state and federal court, although only the state case resulted in a death sentence. Representing Mr. Thomas in his habeas corpus proceedings, Winston attorneys uncovered evidence that state and federal investigators paid Mr. Thomas’s ex-wife $750 for her testimony against him in federal court. Prosecuting attorneys failed to disclose this fact to defense counsel in both the federal and state proceedings against Mr. Thomas. Winston amended Mr. Thomas’s habeas petition to include a Brady claim that this evidence was improperly withheld. Despite this new evidence, the federal district court denied relief in 2015.

The Winston team then appealed Mr. Thomas’s case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s order, finding that “the prosecutor had a duty to disclose this payment rather than allow[ing] the witness to commit perjury by denying its existence.” The court concluded that the failure to disclose this evidence was “particularly egregious,” as Mr. Thomas’s wife was a critical witness for the case against him. As a result of Winston attorneys’ tireless work, Mr. Thomas will be entitled to a new trial. Congratulations to the appellate team from Winston, including Kevin Wallace, Elizabeth Cate, Mollie Richardson, Mikaela Evans-Aziz, Mulan Cui, Lane Lerner, Rachel Benjamin, Jennifer Doran, Matthew Niss, and local Memphis co-counsel, Robert Hutton.