We have represented a number of death row inmates in habeas corpus proceedings. Indeed, our work in this area earned us the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project Excellence in Service Award. The cases raise important constitutional and criminal procedure issues, including ineffective assistance of counsel, legality of confessions, and mental competency. We have represented several death row inmates, including Troy Anthony Davis, whose case became nationally prominent. Mr. Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for killing a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. The conviction was based solely on eyewitness testimony, no murder weapon was ever found and no physical evidence ever directly connected Davis to the crime. Davis spent over 20 years on death row before he was executed in 2011 despite substantial questions about his innocence. In July 2007, less than 24 hours before his scheduled execution, Arnold & Porter attorneys convinced the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to take notice of the troubling facts of the case, resulting in a last minute stay of execution. Our attorneys secured two additional last minute stays of execution, and in 2009 successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of United States to order an evidentiary hearing to examine Mr. Davis’ innocence -- the first time the Supreme Court had taken such measures in nearly 50 years. Of the nine original witnesses who implicated Davis, seven had recanted their testimony, citing police coercion and simple mistake. Other witnesses and evidence came to light during the evidentiary hearing which supported Mr. Davis’ innocence. This evidence led to a barrage of media coverage and an outcry of support for Mr. Davis from around the world. The federal district court in Savannah, Georgia denied Mr. Davis relief in 2010, and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to grant Mr. Davis reprieve after what was reported to be a close vote. Despite the protestations of, among many others, former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, several federal and state court judges, a former Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles member and Mr. Davis’ former prison warden, Mr. Davis was executed in October 2011 a short distance from a massive crowd of protesters, national news media and police.
Our firm also represents Henry Daniels, who was convicted of the first degree murder of 16-year-old Alexander Porter and sentenced to death. According to the prosecution, Daniels and an accomplice intended to hold Porter for ransom but, when the plan began to unravel, decided instead to kill him. The state presented the opinion of a medical examiner who testified, in spite of scientific evidence indicating otherwise, that the defendants had shot Porter to death. At trial, Daniels testified that they never intended to kill Porter, but that he had suffocated to death accidentally in the trunk of the car where they had confined him. Finding him dead later that day, they took his lifeless body out to the woods in the middle of the night, dumped it by the side of a road, and shot it four times. The lack of bleeding from the wounds, as well as documents from the medical examiner’s file that were withheld at trial, indicated that Porter could not have been alive when shot. Witness statements corroborating Daniels’ testimony were also withheld at trial. An accidental death would have foreclosed the possibility of a first degree murder conviction, making Daniels ineligible for the death penalty. While Daniels’ abusive childhood and tragic teen years also would have been strong foundation for a case in mitigation against a death sentence, Daniels’ counsel made merely token efforts to stave off the death penalty. The case went up for direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, during which Daniels’ appellate counsel failed even to contact him before submitting an appellate brief on his behalf. The Court denied relief. The case went to a second layer of appeal, at which point the appeals court granted relief on three claims, including claims that the government had withheld exculpatory evidence at trial, only to be reversed on its second presentation to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and sent back down to the appeals court. At this level of appeal, Arnold & Porter took up Daniels’ case, and Daniels prevailed on one claim: Mitigation – relief granted in the form of a new sentencing phase to determine whether Daniels should have received the death penalty. The Commonwealth appealed and the case sits now in front of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, where it has been twice before, for rulings on 16 claims of relief.
The firm also achieved a huge pro bono victory when the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state of California from executing any inmates by lethal injection until it issues regulations in compliance with the state Administrative Procedures Act. The court held that the existing regulations failed to comply with the APA in numerous respects. As a result, the state cannot execute anyone by lethal injection until new regulations are promulgated, a process that could take several years. This is a very significant result because California has more than 700 prisoners on death row, more than any other state.