Jenner & Block

Tompkins Discusses Pro Bono Battle for Justice

Jenner & Block Associate Christopher Tompkins joined Steven Drizin of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and pro bono client Johnnie Lee Savory to discuss Mr. Savory’s thirty year struggle for justice at the April 6 premiere of a documentary about his ordeal.

Mr. Savory, who was first convicted for a double murder in 1977 at the age of 14, has unswervingly maintained his innocence during his thirty years in prison.  The Illinois Court of Appeals reversed his convictions in 1980 due to lack of evidence after determining that his confession was involuntary and thus inadmissible.  However, the following year, Mr. Savory was again tried for the murders and convicted based on a limited amount of circumstantial and physical evidence, including testimony of two witnesses who subsequently recanted.

Mr. Tompkins has represented Mr. Savory at several parole hearings and in his efforts to overturn his conviction for over seven years.  In December 2006, after several close votes denying parole, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board voted 10-4 to parole Mr. Savory.  Mr. Savory was represented at his 2006 parole hearing by Mr. Drizin and Northwestern University Law Student Daniel Jonathan, who also spoke at the premiere.

To conclusively prove his innocence, Mr. Savory is seeking to gain access to the physical evidence used to convict him in order to subject it to DNA testing.  In November 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied Mr. Savory this access, saying his lawsuit to force prosecutors to provide access was barred by the statute of limitations.  Mr. Tompkins and Associate April A. Otterberg recently filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the Court to review the ruling of the Seventh Circuit.

The Johnnie Savory Story, which examines Mr. Savory’s case and his efforts to prove his innocence, was produced by Ashima Singal, a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.