May 14, 2021
Fish Pro Bono Team Secures Ruling Vacating Client Conviction After 22 Years on Death Row
Fish & Richardson announced today that the Mississippi Supreme Court has issued a final ruling that vacated the convictions and death sentence of firm pro bono client Sherwood Brown. Brown has been on death row in Mississippi since 1995.
Brown was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of three female members of the Boyd family in the small town of Eudora, Mississippi. When police arrived at the Boyd house, bloody shoe prints were found at the crime scene from a left Fila shoe. A similar shoe print was found later that day in the driveway of Brown, who lived nearby. Brown was arrested and a search of his home turned up a pair of Fila shoes that appeared to match the footprints. The FBI later determined that there were traces of blood on the sole of Brown's left shoe.
The shoe prints were central to the state's case at Brown's 1995 trial. In addition, prosecutors argued that a cut on Brown's wrist was a bite mark from one of the victims. At this time, DNA testing was in its infancy and was not conducted, and Brown was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2012, after several years of investigating Brown's case, Fish and co-counsel from the Mississippi Innocence Project filed a motion in the Mississippi Supreme Court to gain access to the evidence to allow for DNA testing. The Court granted the motion en banc, over the state's objections. Thus commenced a multi-year process of testing the evidence, which was done by two independent laboratories. In 2016, the final DNA testing results showed that the blood on Brown's left shoe did not match the blood in the shoe prints at the crime scene, and that Brown's DNA was not present in the saliva of the victim the state had alleged bit Brown.
In 2017, Fish and co-counsel filed a motion in the Mississippi Supreme Court to vacate Brown's convictions and sentences based on the DNA testing results, and the Mississippi Supreme Court then heard the case en banc. It soon after granted the motion, ordered Brown's convictions and death sentence vacated, and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. In November 2017, the state moved for reconsideration, but its motion was denied in early 2018.
Fish principal John Lane, who is based in the firm's Houston office, led Sherwood Brown's legal team. He was assisted by co-counsel from the Mississippi Innocence Project and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
"I am incredibly grateful to see Sherwood's death sentence vacated. This outcome is the result of many years of pro bono work by a dedicated legal team who never lost faith in the rightness of Sherwood's cause. Without the full support of Fish's pro bono program, this result would not have been possible," said Lane.
Peter Devlin, President of Fish & Richardson, commended the efforts of the team. "Fish is committed to making pro bono work an integral part of our professional culture, and we strongly encourage all of our legal professionals to take on pro bono matters as a part of their professional lives. I am proud of the team that donated their time to save Sherwood's life," said Devlin.
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