Ensuring Access to Justice
Ensuring “Just and Fair Treatment”
When Los Angeles office Managing Partner Rick Richmond learned the circumstances surrounding Dietrich Canterberry, he agreed to represent the former college football star pro bono. It would be Rick’s first time defending a felony criminal case.
The charge? Murder.
A former captain of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas football team, Canterberry was charged in connection with the death of a man during a fight outside a Hollywood nightclub. During the fight that he did not start or finish, Canterberry threw one glancing blow in self-defense. His family had exhausted most of their financial resources on defense lawyers during the preliminary stages. A trial is scheduled later this year.
Rick’s unconventional decision to handle his first murder defense in a career spent representing clients in commercial litigation was not lost on the Daily Journal, California’s statewide legal industry newspaper, which ran a front-page, above-the-fold feature on the case in December.
“I felt on a personal level this defendant has been treated unfairly,” Rick said in the profile. “And I want very much for him to receive just and fair treatment.”
To most outside of the firm, an office managing partner with a busy practice taking on such a serious matter—on a pro bono basis, no less—is almost unheard of. But within Jenner & Block, Rick is the latest in a long line of leaders who dedicate their time to ensuring that criminal defendants without the means to pay for top-flight private defense lawyers receive the same equal access to justice as those who can.
Terry Truax, firmwide managing partner who had referred the case to Rick, is also part of a team representing another pro bono client facing a first-degree murder indictment in Chicago. That case is set to go to trial this spring.
“A commitment to pro bono work and serving the communities where we work and live are among our firm’s core values,” said Terry. “ Our commitment to providing legal representation to those who need it most is both an obligation and a privilege for me and every lawyer at Jenner & Block.”
Rick, Terry and the other lawyers in the firm who represent criminal defendants are upholding a long Jenner & Block tradition. In the 1950s, Partners Thomas Sullivan, Prentice Marshall and Jerry Solovy launched the firm's pro bono program when, as active members of the Chicago Bar Association’s Defense of Prisoners Committee, they represented indigent criminal defendants and began recruiting dozens of other Jenner & Block lawyers to the same service.
In the 1960s, Partner Bert Jenner represented William Witherspoon, who had been condemned to death for killing a Chicago police officer. The firm’s named partner, the son of a Chicago policeman but an ardent opponent of the death penalty, argued in the Supreme Court that the death sentence of Witherspoon was invalid. The firm won a landmark victory, as the Court ruled that the jury was tainted with members in favor of the death penalty due to the manner in which the jurors were selected.
That commitment to pro bono criminal representation has persisted for decades. In the past year alone, the firm won two key victories for prisoners wrongfully convicted of murder. Below on this page you can read more about the firm’s work on those cases for Adam Gray and Patrick Pursley, both of whom were released from prison in 2017.
Despite never having handled a felony case, Rick said in his profile that he can draw upon the firm’s institutional knowledge of defending criminal cases, a resource that’s available thanks to the firm’s decades-long dedication to taking on difficult cases in the name of equal access to justice.
“It’s part of our DNA at Jenner & Block to provide pro bono representation in the communities where we serve,” he said.
FIRM UNCOVERS FLAWED ARSON EVIDENCE
On May 3, 2017, Adam Gray was released from prison after being incarcerated nearly 24 years. He was 14 years old in 1993 when he was arrested and charged with starting a fatal fire that killed two elderly people in a Chicago apartment. He was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole, under the law in place at the time. The conviction was based primarily on testimony from Chicago Fire and Police Department experts that burn patterns showed an accelerant was used in the fire, as well as a confession he gave after seven hours of interrogation by Chicago police without a parent or guardian present. “At one point, a cop told me he believed I was innocent and the only way I was going to get out of there is if I said that I did it and he’d drop me off in front of my school so I could go to school that day,” Gray said. Despite the evidence and confession, Gray subsequently maintained his innocence. But because the evidence was so strong, he was convicted and sent to a juvenile detention center.
“If you try to step into a 14-year-old’s shoes who is going into an environment like that and being told they would spend the rest of their life there, it’s unimaginable. But there was a silver lining to Adam’s time at the juvenile detention center,” said Associate Brij Patnaik, a team member on the case.
An art teacher at the Chicago juvenile detention center who met Gray eventually came to believe he was wrongfully convicted. That teacher reached out to Jenner & Block, providing the firm with affidavits and other materials that she had collected; in 2010, the firm took on Gray’s representation. In the course of litigating his post-conviction petition, the firm team investigated and presented newly discovered evidence from three well-known fire science experts, as well as from lay witnesses. Based on advances in the field of fire science, the experts showed that there was no evidence to believe there was arson at all. Further, physical evidence proved that the central elements of Gray’s confession could not have been true.
The firm team representing Gray includes Partners Terri Mascherin, Barry Levenstam and Daniel Fenske; Associates Brij Patnaik and James Dawson; and Paralegal Mary Patston. Serving as co-counsel with Jenner & Block was Exoneration Project Staff Attorney Tara Thompson.
FLAWED BALLISTICS EVIDENCE
In 1994, client Patrick Pursley, was convicted of attempted robbery and first-degree murder based heavily on the testimony of a State ballistics examiner that a firearm attributed to Pursley fired the bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. Pursley was sentenced to life in prison, maintained his innocence and sought post-conviction ballistics testing using new technology; however, Illinois law did not provide for such testing, and his request was denied. But, Pursley persisted. He spent his time studying the law and became a certified law clerk, often advising other inmates on their cases. “Two things kept me focused. My children and the fact of my innocence,” he said. “It was all about work. I knew the only way that I could get out [of jail] is if I kept working.” Pursley said the six months he’d spent in segregation literally opened the door to his freedom. “I had extra time in segregation where I wrote an article stating that the law should keep up with technology and to allow for gun testing in a post-conviction setting just as they did at the time with DNA,” he said. After lobbying efforts on Pursley’s behalf, the Illinois legislature amended the law in 2007 to provide for post-conviction ballistics testing.
In October 2008, Jenner & Block was brought on by the Northwestern Center for Wrongful Convictions to assist with the case. After the circuit court again denied Pursley new ballistics testing, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and granted his request. The Jenner & Block team then reached out to two preeminent ballistics examiners who examined the evidence using new technology and concluded that Pursley’s firearm did not fire either of the bullets or either of the cartridge cases found at the crime. In December 2016, Judge Joseph McGraw of the Winnebago County Circuit Court held a three-day evidentiary hearing on this evidence and, on March 3, 2017, vacated Pursley’s conviction.
“We had to convince the judge that our ballistics examiners, who used newer technology, higher microscope examinations and digital imaging techniques, had processes and conclusions that were better than the conclusions reached in the initial trial,” said Associate Kevin Murphy.
On April 27, 2017, after being incarcerated for over 23 years, Pursley was released from prison. Pursley said the experience “devastated” his children but in some ways changed him for the better. “I am relentless in my pursuit of success,” he said. “I am working 12-hour days, trying to learn the technology, build and do things to catch up with the rest of society.”
The firm team representing Pursley includes Partners Andrew Vail and Robert Stauffer and Associates Kevin Murphy and Monika Kothari. The team served as co-counsel with the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Interested in learning more about the case? Click here.
MURDER CHARGES DROPPED AFTER COERCED CONFESSION SUPPRESSED
Partner Andrew Vail led a team that won a key victory for our client Arturo Reyes and for other prisoners who were convicted based on confessions coerced by controversial former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara. In December 2017, Andrew and Partner David Saunders persuaded Cook County Circuit Judge James Obbish to throw out our client’s coerced confession, which was essentially the only evidence against him in a high-profile double-murder case in 1998. Judge Obbish’s ruling came after prosecutors granted Guevara—who earlier had invoked the Fifth Amendment under questioning from Andrew—immunity from prosecution for everything but perjury, only to hear Guevara testify in October 2017 that he did not remember anything about the case. Guevara refused even to examine documents offered to him to refresh his memory. “He showed what he was made of,” Judge Obbish said as quoted in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times articles, concluding that Guevara had no reason to be evasive. “[Guevara] has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.” The judge’s ruling may have an impact on an undetermined number of other persons convicted based on Guevara’s investigative work. On December 21, 2017, prosecutors then dismissed the charges against Reyes, and he was released from IDOC custody for first time in nearly 19 years. In February 2018, Reyes was reunited with his family in Mexico.
News of the dropped charges was reported by multiple media outlets, ranging from the Chicago Tribune to the Associated Press.
The firm team also includes Associates Matthew Gordon, Samuel Jahangir and Huiyi Chen and Paralegals Mike Hughes and Nick Perrone. The firm represented Reyes, and the Center on Wrongful Convictions represented his co-petitioner, Mr. Solche.
Reyes is the second pro bono client for whom Andrew achieved post-conviction relief and freedom in 2017.
Pro bono client F.X. had a series of arrests and convictions for non-violent crimes related to his addiction problems, which didn’t help his subsequent claim that he was unlawfully detained during a traffic stop outside of Chicago, Illinois. However, F.X. believed that the traffic stop was the result of being persecuted and singled-out by local law enforcement, as supported by a separate case involving a local police officer who was found to have perjured himself in grand jury testimony against F.X.
Just before the jury trial on his claims, Partner Wade Thomson and Associate Shy Jackson were able to obtain a favorable and unexpected settlement by zealously advocating for F.X., including by compelling the arresting officer to admit to several inconsistencies during his deposition and successfully moving in limine to keep out evidence of F.X.’s previous arrests and convictions.
A Life Resentenced
Beginning from the time of his criminal conviction in 1991, client Joseph Wang made every effort to reform himself while in prison. He was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, for participating in two murders as a member of the Green Dragons gang as a teenager. Despite having no hope of ever leaving prison, Wang obtained his GED, became a passionate painter and engaged in numerous opportunities to contribute positively both inside prison (teaching courses in painting and ceramics and creating a Buddhism program for other inmates) and outside prison (creating artwork for children with cancer). And, from the time of his conviction, Wang had no disciplinary incidents while in prison. After the US Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional (Miller v. Alabama), the Court mandated that inmates previously sentenced for these crimes be afforded a resentencing opportunity.
A firm team led by Partner Michael Ross successfully sought habeas relief for Wang and, during the resulting resentencing hearing, presented evidence of his choice to “be better” to Judge Dora L. Irizarry (EDNY), as demonstrated by his flawless disciplinary record, volunteer work and rehabilitation efforts. As a result of the firm’s work, Judge Irizarry resentenced him to a term of 30 years’ imprisonment, and with good behavior credit, Wang was released shortly after the resentencing.
In a statement provided to the NY Daily News, Michael said that Judge Irizarry’s decision “recognizes that juveniles who commit even heinous crimes are capable of changing. Wang’s case exemplifies that constitutional principle.” Additional members of the team included former associates Caroline DeCell and Justin Spiegel and former law clerk Stephanie Krent. Partners Anthony Barkow and Brian Fischer also provided key support and guidance.
A Necessary Evidentiary Hearing
At the time client Denny Anderson pleaded guilty to a felony possession of a firearm, the district court had only a general knowledge of his mental-health problems, including his chronic schizophrenia and use of psychotropic medication to treat his illness. What the court did not know was the extent of his mental-health problems, as well as the effect his irregularly administered medication regimen had on his competence—a regimen that included Thorazine (an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and manic-depressive disorder), Tegretol (an anti-seizure medication) and Artane (treats the side effects of his other medications), among others. With only a general understanding of Anderson’s mental-health issues, the court accepted the plea and sentenced him despite his psychiatric problems, limited access to his medication and unusual behavior in court. As a result, he moved for federal habeas relief on grounds that he was not competent to plead guilty and be sentenced, that his conviction and sentence ran afoul of the Due Process Clause and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a competency evaluation and hearing. The district court denied Anderson’s claims without an evidentiary hearing. Associate Joshua Parker briefed, argued and won a Seventh Circuit pro bono appeal of that denial, requiring that the court give Anderson a hearing on both claims: an opinion that provides a significant precedent for defendants and habeas petitioners who struggle with mental health issues. Members of the team include Partners Gregory Boyle and Barry Levenstam, and the team is now representing Anderson at the hearing on remand.
Successful Plea Deal
In May 2016, an altercation between two large groups of young girls at the Parkway Gardens Homes on Chicago’s South Side led to the stabbing death of a 15-year-old girl. Days after the altercation, the police arrested a 13-year-old girl and charged her with first degree murder, then, without any explanation, arrested the girl’s mother, Tamika Gayden and charged her with first-degree murder, because she allegedly provided her daughter with the “switchblade” knife that was used during the altercation. Representatives of Father Michael Pfleger reached out to Partner Richard Steinken to represent Gayden, and he immediately enlisted the aid of Partner Precious Jacobs. Precious quickly gained the trust of the family of the mother of five, assembled a team of attorneys and aggressively worked to build the defense in the face of highly negative press coverage. “In the face of some very unfair newspaper articles and television coverage, we knew Gayden was going to need representation, and it would likely take a lot of resources to help tell her story,” said Precious. “I wanted to help make sure that she had access to justice, and I helped rally a team who all wanted the same thing: justice for our client.”
Building the defense through pain-staking investigative work assisted by private investigators, and working collaboratively with the public defender representing Gayden’s daughter, Precious and her team gradually educated the state’s attorneys about the weaknesses in their case, and on the eve of trial, were able to convince the State to reduce the charges to involuntary manslaughter and offer a favorable plea deal.
When the team was able to secure a sentence that was even less than that recommended by the prosecutors, Gayden entered a plea of guilty to the reduced charges and received a sentence that should allow her to be released from prison in less than six months, in time for two of her children’s graduations. “I think the case was badly overcharged in the first instance,” Richard told the Chicago Tribune. He went on to say, “I give the state’s attorney credit for pleading the case in good faith and reaching a more fair result.”
Other members of the team included Associates Amit Patel and Reanne Zheng, Discovery Attorney Kate Eisenmann-Cabral, and former associates Kevin Waklatsi, Ellie Zenner, Yasmine Kurukgy and Peter Hanna.
Helping Start a New Life
At age 13, our client was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Over the course of approximately two decades, she worked for abusive pimp after abusive pimp, often intentionally getting caught shoplifting because time in jail was preferable to the abuse she was suffering. Four years ago, after her pimp told her to hold his drugs, she was arrested and incarcerated for drug possession. After having a baby in prison, she is determined to start a new life. Jenner & Block now represents her as a witness in a joint federal-state investigation. The team is led by Partners Katya Jestin and Anouck Giovanola with Associates Brittany Lamb and Katie Rosoff.