The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted penalty phase relief on July 29, 2005, to Saharris Rollins, who was jointly represented by Duane Morris LLP and the Philadelphia Federal Defender’s Capital Habeas Unit. The court found that Saharris’s trial counsel failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence about Saharris’s background, which denied him his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. Among the information that counsel failed to uncover was the abuse Saharris suffered as a child, the trauma from experiencing the deaths of virtually all close family members, and the existence of brain damage and psychiatric disorders. Not only did trial counsel fail to uncover these key facts, he failed to prepare for sentencing in any meaningful way. During their investigation, Duane Morris attorneys discovered that trial counsel did not begin to prepare mitigation evidence until 4:30 p.m. on the day before the penalty proceedings commenced.
Saharris has four children and has been described as a very loving and supportive father. His own childhood and interactions with his father were, unfortunately, much different. Saharris grew up in a home with a very abusive father and remembers seeing his mother abused. She eventually left, promising to return for him, but she never did. Saharris grew up in poverty and left school in the 10th grade so he could earn money to help with bills. He suffered many tragic losses in his life: first, the accidental drowning of his brother; followed by his mother, who lost a battle to cancer a few years later; his second brother, who was shot and killed; and finally his father. After his second brother’s death, Saharris became very introverted, dressing all in black and not taking care of himself physically and mentally.
Saharris suffered at least three significant head injuries, starting when he was about 10 years old. A clinical psychologist found that at the time of the killing, Saharris “had suffered from severe psychological and physical trauma that had a profound effect on his mental state, character and ability to respond appropriately in stressful situations.” The court found that had counsel presented this evidence to the jury, Saharris might not have been sentenced to death.
Saharris was the 20th Pennsylvania death row inmate to win state or federal post-conviction relief with the pro bono assistance of a private law firm.