Byman Successfully Represents David Dowaliby in High-Profile Case
“Call Bob Byman,” Cindi Dowaliby, played by actress Shannen Doherty, tells her husband, David. In this scene from the 1996 TV movie Gone in the Night, Cindi talks to her husband in prison, where he’s being held after his conviction on charges of killing their young daughter. She urges him to get Bob to handle the appeal. The movie was based on the award-winning book about the high-profile Dowaliby case. In 1988, 7-year-old Jaclyn Dowaliby was kidnapped from her Chicago-area home in the middle of the night. Cindi and David were eventually charged with the girl’s murder. Cindi would be acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence, but David was convicted. David did indeed “hire” Bob Byman, and on this day in 1991, Bob and his pro bono team won a reversal of David’s conviction. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that no one else killed Jaclyn and that the evidence against him was not sufficient. "I'm ecstatic," Bob told the Chicago Tribune. "This shows the system works."
Byman, Mascherin Continue Firm's Legacy at American College of Trial Lawyers
On this day in 2013, the firm continued its tradition of leadership of the nation’s premier professional trial organization in North America. Bob Byman was inaugurated as the 64th president of the American College of Trial Lawyers, following in the footsteps of name Partner Albert “Bert” Jenner (1958-59) and Partner and former U.S. Appeals Court Judge Philip Tone (1988-89). On the same day, Terri Mascherin was inaugurated as a fellow, the third woman partner at Jenner & Block to be invited to join the ACTL. “We are proud that Jenner & Block has enjoyed such a long history with the American College of Trial Lawyers,” said then-Managing Partner Susan C. Levy. “The recognition of Bob and Terri by the ACTL is so well deserved. They represent the very best in what this firm has been about for nearly a century: delivering excellence to our clients. They are leaders of this firm and stewards of the legal industry.” Bob has worked at the firm for 44 years, Terri for 30 years.
Firm Wins Release of One of the Wrongly Accused "Ford Heights Four"
On this day in 1996, Bob Byman and Jim Thompson secured the release of Dennis Williams, one of the “Ford Heights Four” who spent nearly two decades on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. The following day, police arrested the man prosecutors said should have been charged with the 1978 murders of Lawrence Lionberg and his fiancé, Carol Schmal. As the Chicago Tribune observed, the case against Mr. Williams and the other “Four” involved “poor lawyering, overzealous police and prosecutors, a dishonest witness and a public uproar” over the brutal crime. During Mr. Williams’ second trial in 1987, for instance, his lawyer at the time neglected to follow up on an investigator’s interview with a potential witness who indicated that four other men were involved in the crime. “It was a judgment call not to investigate it, but it was a bad judgment call,” Bob was quoted as saying. The case would become the subject of the book, A Promise of Justice.
Victory in Witherspoon Case Reforms Jury Selection Process in Capital Cases
The firm represented William Witherspoon in a case that would have major implications for how juries are selected in capital cases throughout the nation. In 1960, Witherspoon was sentenced to death by a jury. The jury was selected in a process that permitted the prosecution an unlimited number of challenges for cause with respect to any potential juror who expressed qualms about the death penalty. As a result, the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was composed only of persons who had no qualms about capital punishment. Jenner & Block represented Mr. Witherspoon on a pro bono basis in a post-conviction review that challenged the constitutionality of this process. The Illinois Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief. In an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a team led by Albert Jenner, with Tom Sullivan, Jerry Solovy and John Tucker, secured a reversal of Witherspoon’s death sentence. On this day in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion holding that the method of selection of the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned: “A jury that must choose between life imprisonment and capital punishment can do little more – and must do nothing less – than express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death. Yet, in a nation less than half of whose people believe in the death penalty, a jury composed exclusively of such people cannot speak for the community.” The Court added: “To execute this death sentence would deprive [Witherspoon] of his life without the due process of the law.” As a result of the Witherspoon decision, more than 350 inmates on death row around the nation had their death sentences lifted.
Witherspoon was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. He became a model prisoner. When he became eligible for possible parole, Jerry Solovy, with assistance from associates Mike Seng and Dan Murray, mounted a concerted effort over a number of years to secure Witherspoon’s parole. His parole application enjoyed the support of all of the prison wardens under whom he served and of all of the guards in Old Joliet Prison. The Parole Board ultimately granted him parole. Witherspoon devoted the remainder of his life working at a half-way house in Detroit, helping inmates coming out of prison in their adjustment and re-entry into society.
Please click here to read the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Witherspoon. Click here for a recording of Bert's oral argument presented to the Court.