Sherwood Brown, a man who was wrongly convicted of a triple murder—and incarcerated 28 years for those crimes, 22 of them on Mississippi’s death row—was released on August 24, marking the end of his decades-long fight for freedom.
Mr. Brown, whose pro bono defense was led by Fish & Richardson Principal John Lane, was on death row from 1995 until his convictions and death sentence were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2018 based on DNA testing of the crime scene evidence. After the Court’s grant of relief, the State announced that it intended to retry the case. But after several years of investigation, including additional DNA testing, the State reconsidered its initial position and then, earlier this month, requested that the trial court dismiss the case, which resulted in Mr. Brown’s release.
“We are extremely thankful to see Sherwood walk out of prison a free man, following decades of suffering and injustice,” said Lane. “After all of this time, we never lost hope, and are gratified justice has finally been served.”
At the time Mr. Brown was convicted in 1995, DNA testing was in its infancy and was not conducted. In 2012, Lane and his co-counsel from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and the Mississippi Innocence Project filed a successful motion in the Mississippi Supreme Court to gain access to the evidence to allow for DNA testing. Two independent laboratories then tested the evidence, which showed that Mr. Brown’s DNA was not present at the crime scene. As a result, in 2018, Lane and his team secured a ruling vacating Mr. Brown’s conviction and sentencing, after he had spent 22 years on death row.
In early August, the State filed an order to dismiss the case entirely, which the DeSoto County Circuit Court entered on August 24.
“Sherwood’s release is a direct result of a committed team of lawyers working tirelessly together over many years to ensure justice,” said Tucker Carrington, co-counsel and founding director of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “Our team has dedicated countless hours to assisting Sherwood not only on a professional level, but on a personal level as well, and we couldn’t be happier to see this day come.”
Lane and his co-counsel traveled to Mississippi to meet Mr. Brown immediately following his release, and plan to work closely with him and a social worker involved in the case as Mr. Brown adjusts to life as a free man.
Tom Fortner of Lowrey & Fortner PA, and Merrida (Buddy) Coxwell of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC—two of Mississippi’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers—also represented Mr. Brown pro bono after his convictions were overturned in 2018 by the Mississippi Supreme Court, and provided valuable insight and guidance in securing Mr. Brown’s release.
As the premier IP law firm, Fish & Richardson attorneys are dedicated to serving the communities in which they live and work, and pro bono work is an integral part of the firm’s professional culture. Fish believes that the practice of law is a privilege that carries with it the responsibility to provide pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford to pay. In 2020, nearly 75% of the firm’s attorneys took part in pro bono projects, resulting in nearly 22,000 pro bono hours worked firmwide.
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