On this day in 2013, the Seventh Circuit took the unusual step of ordering pro bono client Nicole Harris released on bond from prison, setting the stage for what ultimately became a successful effort by the firm and Northwestern University Law School’s Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions to exonerate her. "I just feel overwhelmed with joy," she told reporters covering the high-profile case. Ms. Harris had been convicted in 2005 of murdering her 4-year-old son and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The firm and the CWC became involved after trial, appealing the case through state and federal courts and losing at each turn until October 2012, when the Seventh Circuit held that the trial judge had excluded the testimony of Ms. Harris’ surviving son, 5 years old at the time, that he had seen his younger sibling strangle himself with the elastic from a bed sheet when their mother was not in the room. With her conviction reversed, the team asked the Seventh Circuit to order Mrs. Harris released on bond pending further proceedings. “We are grateful to have achieved this result for Ms. Harris,” said Bob Stauffer, who led the firm’s team. “It is very unusual for a federal appellate court to find it necessary to order a state prisoner released pending further proceedings; that the Seventh Circuit did so here suggests that it believes not only that her conviction was unconstitutional, but that it agrees with us that Ms. Harris is actually innocent.” On June 17, Ms. Harris’ freedom was secured when the state announced it would not retry her. Other members of the firm’s team included current attorneys Matt Hellman, Kara Kapp, Andrew Kennedy and Elin Park.
On January 26, 2011, a team including Robert Stauffer, Andrew Vail and Kyle Palazzolo achieved a groundbreaking result in a pro bono post-conviction case on behalf of client Patrick Pursley. The Pursley case was the first case in Illinois granting a prisoner ballistics testing under the Post-Conviction Testing Act. Mr. Pursley has adamantly maintained his innocence since his conviction for first-degree murder during the course of an attempted robbery in 1993. The decision was featured in the January 2012 Pro Bono Hot List by The National Law Journal.