Davis Polk and PJI secure release of pro bono client serving life sentence
On March 23, 2023, in collaboration with the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), Davis Polk secured the immediate release of our pro bono client who was incarcerated in Louisiana for more than 29 years following his conviction by a non-unanimous jury. We became involved in this case in December 2022 and supported our client’s application for post-conviction relief by advocating with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office and providing new information to the court highlighting the 1995 trial’s many flaws. These efforts resulted in the approval of a plea agreement by the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
In our client’s 1995 trial, at 21 years old, the non-unanimous jury convicted him of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Independent of the non-unanimous jury verdict, there were a number of egregious issues with the trial including: the fact that one of the prosecution’s key eyewitnesses (the victim’s sister) had since recanted her trial testimony in full; the complete absence of any physical or forensic evidence otherwise connecting our client to the crime; a potential Brady violation by the state; and the fact that defense counsel failed to present an alibi to the jury despite our client’s continued insistence that he was not at the crime scene. During re-sentencing, the Court remarked that the full recantation of the key witness’ testimony “took [his] breath away.” These faults of our client’s trial along with his stellar record of success while incarcerated convinced the District Attorney’s office and the Court that his immediate release was warranted.
The Davis Polk team included senior counsel Denis McInerney, Head of Pro Bono Litigation Dara Sheinfeld, Pro Bono Counsel for Racial Justice Initiatives Diane Lucas, associates Benjamin Guillon, Emma Himes and Ian Hogg, law clerk Julia Leff and structured products senior analyst Jack Hannah.