After 25 years in prison, Michael Wearry walked out of the Hunt Prison in Louisiana as a free man on February 15, 2023. Fredrikson attorney Ed Cassidy and his team have spent the last 15 years, which included a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, in a legal battle that resulted in a negotiated sentence leading to Wearry’s release.
In March 2002 Fredrikson pro-bono client, Michael Wearry, who is African American, was convicted by an all-white jury in Livingston Parish, La., of the April 1998 gruesome murder of a white teenager and was sentenced to death. Wearry spent the next 14 years on Angola’s death row in an 8-x-9-foot cell in solitary confinement.
The case drew national attention. “The Supreme Court wrote that ‘The State’s trial evidence resembles a house of cards’” said Ed Cassidy, who led Wearry’s pro bono defense team. “Wearry’s conviction was based on the testimony of an informant whose account of the crime changed, and where he admitted in a police report that was initially withheld by the prosecution that he had a personal beef with Wearry” added Cassidy. In addition, Wearry’s alibi was discounted, and it was found that the prosecution had also withheld relevant information that would have cast doubt on additional testimony that the State’s case relied on, as well as would have provided relevant medical evidence. Wearry’s trial attorney had failed to uncover numerous examples of exonerating evidence, including evidence which would have corroborated with his alibi.
Fredrikson took the case in 2009 and was granted a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2016 where the Court agreed to review the case. Wearry had sought post-conviction relief, urging that the prosecution failed to disclose evidence supporting his innocence and that his counsel provided ineffective assistance at trial. In a per curiam order, meaning the opinion of the Court rather than that of a specific justice, the Court concluded that the prosecution’s failure to disclose material evidence violated Wearry’s due process rights, the conviction was overturned, and a new trial was called. Before the retrial in front of a second all-white jury, there was a negotiated sentence to guarantee Wearry’s ultimate release.
“I’m incredibly pleased with the outcome of this case and to see Michael finally leave the prison as a free man,” said Cassidy. “He is getting his life back and is able to reconnect with his family, including grandchildren.”
Ed Cassidy practices in the Employment & Labor and Litigation groups at Fredrikson. He has over 40 years of litigation experience in a variety of jurisdictions. In 2016, he was recognized as Attorney of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer, for his efforts in this case.
“This case represents Fredrikson’s commitment, against all odds, to pro bono work,” said John M. Koneck, president of Fredrikson. “We applaud Ed and his team for the tremendous time, effort, and excellent skill and legal work to bring this case to a successful conclusion, given the many challenges over such a long period of time. We encourage our attorneys to take on pro bono work, and our attorneys and staff contribute thousands of hours in pro bono services to individuals in need and nonprofit organizations throughout the local and national community.”
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