Jenner & Block

Pro Bono: 30 Seconds to Lose Your Life, 30 Years to Get it Back — The Story of Johnnie Lee Savory

 

Johnnie Lee Savory was only 14 years old in 1977 when he was accused, tried as an adult and convicted of murdering his best friend James Robinson Jr. and Robinson’s sister Connie Cooper.  Over the next four decades, Mr. Savory has steadfastly maintained his innocence.  “I’m only looking to make things right,” he said.  “The only thing that can make it right is by telling the truth, that what was done to me is wrong.”

His conviction was overturned because it was based on an involuntary confession.  Without the confession, there was no evidence to tie Mr. Savory to the crime, or the scene of the crime.

However, in a second trial in 1981, Mr. Savory was again convicted and sentenced to 40- to 80-years in prison, based largely on the testimony of three witnesses (who later recanted) that he made inculpatory statements following the crime.

Together as co-counsel with Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, Jenner & Block began representing Mr. Savory in 2001, pursuing his claims of innocence and seeking DNA testing in a number of forums, including state and federal courts, and before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board and the governor.   The firm also represented Mr. Savory for many years at various parole hearings, and pursued an effort to obtain DNA testing through a federal civil rights action, which unfortunately was ultimately unsuccessful.

Mr. Savory was released on parole in 2006.  By then, he had served almost 11,000 days, or 30 years, in prison.  The remaining 34 months of his sentence were commuted in December 2011.  In January 2015, the Illinois Governor granted him executive clemency, an action which resulted from a petition originally filed by the firm in 2003.  Mr. Savory’s case continues as he pursues a certificate of his innocence.

The firm’s efforts on Mr. Savory’s behalf have been led since 2001 by Partner Christopher Tompkins. Over the years, numerous Jenner & Block attorneys and support staff have assisted with various aspects of his case, including current Partners David Jimenez-Ekman and April A. Otterberg, and Paralegals Mary Frances Patston and Daniel O. Garcia as well as former partners Brent Stratton and Matthew Neumeier and former associate Gabriella Filisko.  Partner Thomas P. Sullivan also participated in Mr. Savory’s cause, advocating for executive clemency on behalf of numerous prominent members of the Chicago legal community.