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Sixteen-Year Battle Saves Pro Bono Defendant from Death Penalty

14 February 2013
Mayer Brown Article

On February 6, 2013, after an almost 16-year representation, Mayer Brown lawyers secured a plea agreement with the State of Georgia that avoids the death penalty for a mentally retarded defendant who had been convicted for a double murder in 1988. The agreement imposes a sentence of life without parole and avoids further efforts to impose the death penalty.

Mr. S. was convicted in 1989. His case was brought to the firm in 1997 by former partner Mickey Raup. Over the last 15 years, the team also has included former partners Diane Green-Kelly and David Gossett, and current counsel C.J. Summers.

In 2002, Mayer Brown successfully vacated the defendant’s original death sentence in state habeas proceedings that were affirmed by the Supreme Court of Georgia on the ground that, at the original trial, the state improperly withheld information that was relevant to the question whether Mr. S was mentally retarded and, thus, ineligible for the death penalty.  The case was remanded for a new trial on the question whether Mr. S is mentally retarded and for a new sentencing.

Since then, our team has fought the state over a number of legal and evidentiary issues, including another interlocutory trip to the Supreme Court of Georgia. As the frequently postponed trial date approached, the state began to discuss the possibility of settlement.

This is a great outcome for our client. Although there is compelling evidence of Mr. S’s mental retardation, the Supreme Court of Georgia twice rejected our constitutional challenge to the fact that Georgia requires criminal defendants to prove their own mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt in order to avoid the death penalty—making the outcome of any retrial on that issue questionable. 

Through the commitment of Mayer Brown over the years—not to mention a number of dedicated attorneys, fact investigators and experts in Georgia—we have secured a just punishment for our client and avoided the unconstitutional execution of a mentally retarded man.

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