The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recognized Jenner & Block Partner David Jimenez-Ekman with its Annual Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Service Award at a ceremony on June 1, 2022. Mr. Jimenez-Ekman was celebrated for his relentless advocacy for Ken Smith, who was imprisoned in 2001 for a murder and robbery he did not commit. Mr. Jimenez-Ekman started work on Mr. Smith’s case in 2006 and, with the support of various Jenner & Block lawyers over the years, was ultimately successful. In April 2021, the Seventh Circuit held that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to sustain Mr. Smith’s conviction and Mr. Smith was freed from the Lawrence Correctional Center on May 6 of last year, ending what Mr. Jimenez-Ekman called an “almost two-decade nightmare.”
Our Pro Bono Commitment
The firm represented Juan Rivera in the third retrial of charges for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. That trial resulted in conviction, and the firm assisted Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Marshall, former director of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions, who briefed and argued Mr. Rivera’s appeal from that conviction.
In 2011, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District reversed Mr. Rivera’s conviction, finding insufficient evidence to support his conviction in light of the DNA evidence excluding him as the perpetrator. Years later, in 2014, authorities announced that DNA evidence from the case matched a potential suspect in a separate murder.
Earlier this year, Mr. Rivera opened Legacy Barber College, 1546 W. Howard in Chicago, with his former prison guard, Bobby Mattison. According to an article in the 49th Ward newsletter, Mr. Rivera “returned to his roots in Rogers Park to make good on a promise he struck in prison with a guard: to give back by helping youth in underserved communities carve a path towards a successful career.”
The barbershop has partnered with Evanston Township High School and Oakton Community College in Des Plaines to offer alternative programs and college credits. The program also offers education on financial literacy, customer service, and how to run a business.
In addition to working with Professor Marshall, the firm partnered with the Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions on the case. The firm team included Partners Thomas Sullivan, Terri Mascherin and Andrew Vail.
In this video, Ms. Mascherin discusses the case.
Kensley “Sonny” Hawkins, who turned 70 years old this year after spending over 39 years in prison, walked out of Shawnee Correctional Center last week a free man. Mr. Hawkins suffered from numerous serious medical issues that made him extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, and we are overjoyed that he returned home to his loving daughter and grandchildren.
Mr. Hawkins grew up in a single-parent household and was one of 10 children. To support his mother, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Army, where he simultaneously earned his GED, worked as a cook, and earned a National Defense Service Medaland and a parachute badge. After leaving the Army, Mr. Hawkins attended Chicago State University with dreams of becoming an electrical engineer but once again faced the overwhelming pressure of supporting his mother and his family. Mr. Hawkins dropped out of school yet again. In the midst of his financial stress, Mr. Hawkins’ brother committed suicide in their childhood home. Distraught and desperate, Mr. Hawkins agreed to be the get-away driver of the van used in a gas station robbery. The van was later traced back to a person who had been killed before the group went to rob the gas station. As a result, Mr. Hawkins was convicted for murder based on the conduct of his co-defendant, under the controversial theory of accountability.
Always industrious, Mr. Hawkins worked throughout his incarceration. He started as an upholsterer and cabinet maker at Stateville Furniture Factory. Skilled with his hands with a knack for engineering, Mr. Hawkins made products like desks, chairs, bookcases, and cabinets and was eventually promoted to “lead worker” at the factory. More recently, Mr. Hawkins ran the “Set Up” department of the Shawnee Metal Factory. If Mr. Hawkins has a product design, he can quickly prepare the sheet metal for welding and painting. Throughout his incarceration, Mr. Hawkins has been repeatedly recognized for his service and high-quality work and hopes to transfer some of the skills he’s acquired to his new life as a free man. Throughout his incarceration, Mr. Hawkins remained close to a large network of family and friends, including his devoted daughter Ramonia.
Mr. Hawkins was zealously represented by Department Counsel Lisa Schoedel at Jenner & Block, as part of IPP’s pro bono program. Ms. Schoedel's commitment and dedication to Mr. Hawkins and his case paid off: Last week, she received a call from the Illinois Governor’s Office, telling her that Mr. Hawkins would be coming home.
On January 16, 2019, an Illinois judge acquitted pro bono client Patrick Pursley of first-degree murder.
In this video, Mr. Pursley and his Jenner & Block lawyers reflect on the decades-long fight to prove his innocence.
Read more about the case in The Heart of the Matter .
Through the firm’s work serving on the Criminal Justice Act panel in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, a team of associates secured a favorable and unexpected outcome in a pro bono matter.
The case involved a 23-year-old client who had a significant prior criminal record and who was subsequently charged with selling relatively large quantities of drugs on 12 occasions to an undercover officer.
The team negotiated a plea agreement with the government shortly after the client's arrest that reduced the mandatory minimum sentence from 120 months to 60 months. Despite the government's recommendation for an incarceration term of at least 100 months, and a Sentencing Guidelines range of up to 150 months' incarceration, the client was ultimately sentenced to a below-Guidelines term of 72 months in prison.
During the sentencing proceeding in December 2019, Chief Judge Colleen McMahon praised Ms. Leinwand's "very eloquent" oral argument and her and Mr. Gowdey's "excellent brief," telling the client how fortunate he was to have received such "excellent lawyering" and specifically citing favorable policy arguments that were set forth in the brief. The client was very appreciative as well.
Over the course of the representation, the team was also assisted by Associate Matt Phillips, summer associate Idun Klakegg, and paralegals Ricia Augusty and Charlotte Stretch.
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers obtained the appellate reversal of a Kane County murder conviction based on what the Illinois Appellate Court said was inadmissible expert testimony from a well-known former FBI profiler and television commentator. The firm represented Shadwick King pro bono in the appeal of his murder conviction in the death of his wife, Kate.
On August 21, 2018, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the State should not have been allowed to use the expert testimony of Mark Safarik, who has appeared on numerous television shows, including Forensic Files, to establish that Kate King had been killed in the first place – a key disputed issue at Mr. King’s 2015 trial.
Kate King was found dead on a set of railroad tracks near the couple’s Geneva, Illinois, home in July 2014. Investigators suspected Mr. King of being involved in her death, and the evidence against him at his March 2015 trial was heavily circumstantial. The forensic pathologist for the defense testified that Mrs. King likely had died of heart failure. The State’s medical examiner, after at first leaving the autopsy report blank for “manner of death” and telling the lead detective at the autopsy that Mrs. King’s cause of death would be listed as undetermined, testified at trial that she was manually strangled.
The Appellate Court ruled that the State “broke the tie” with the profiler, Mr. Safarik, who was not qualified to give medical testimony yet testified that her cause of death was manual strangulation. The court also held that the trial court erred in allowing Mr. Safarik to testify to his opinion that the crime scene was “staged” by someone who wanted to distance himself from the crime scene and Mrs. King to throw off law enforcement. Mr. Safarik’s “staging” testimony, the court ruled, strayed into impermissible “profiling” testimony that “indirectly, but pointedly” identified Mr. King as the killer, “because, under the circumstances, no one else fit that profile.” The Appellate Court remanded the case to the Kane County Circuit Court for retrial. Prosecutors appealed the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, which in January 2020 affirmed the Appellate Court’s remand for a new trial based on the inadmissibility of Mr. Safarik’s testimony.
The team was led by former partner Gabriel A. Fuentes, and with him were Partner Clifford W. Berlow and former associate Philip Kovoor.