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Jenner & Block was honored October 29 with the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s coveted “Legal Service Award,” based on the Firm’s tradition of pro bono work for those facing the death penalty.
“I am proud to accept this award on behalf of the dozens of Jenner & Block attorneys who have worked tirelessly over the years on behalf of capital defendants," said Partner Scott T. Schutte, who accepted the award at a ceremony in Austin, Texas on behalf of the Firm.
Among the achievements in death penalty-related cases recognized by the award was Mr. Schutte’s work in 2004 as lead attorney in a case involving Texas death row inmate Mauro Barraza, who was sentenced to death for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old. Mr. Schutte, along with Associate Shana A. Shifrin, persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Mr. Barraza’s execution, just hours before it was to take place, pending the High Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons. The Court decided the Roper case in March 2005, ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute juvenile criminals, and Mr. Barraza was permanently removed from death row.
The award also recognized the work of Partner Terri L. Mascherin, who, in January 2004, helped convince the Illinois Supreme Court to deny the Illinois Attorney General’s challenge to former Governor George Ryan’s historic blanket clemency order to all of those on Illinois’ Death Row, thereby leaving intact the traditional right of the state’s chief executive to grant clemency to death row inmates. Ms. Mascherin argued the case, Madigan v. Snyder, before the Justices on behalf of long-time pro bono client Willie Thompkins, Jr. and several other inmates. Ms. Mascherin formerly served as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project, and she currently heads its Steering Committee.
In addition, the NCADP award recognized Partner Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.’s representation of former Maryland Death Row inmate Kevin Wiggins, who was convicted of a 1988 murder and sentenced to death by a Baltimore County jury. A Jenner & Block team, led by Mr. Verrilli, took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to win him a new sentencing hearing. In 2003, the Court ruled in Wiggins v. Smith that Mr. Wiggins had received ineffective assistance of counsel at his original trial when his attorney at the time did not reveal powerful mitigating evidence of childhood abuse that may have swayed a jury against sentencing Mr. Wiggins to death. Mr. Verrilli later led a Jenner & Block team that negotiated a favorable plea agreement between Mr. Wiggins and the state of Maryland that sent Mr. Wiggins to a state facility for mental health treatment and rehabilitation services, but allowed him to apply for parole immediately.
Also contributing to the Firm winning the award was Partner Thomas P. Sullivan, who serves as Chair of the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee and is former Co-Chair of Illinois Governor George Ryan’s Commission on Capital Punishment. The Commission’s report was widely considered to be an influencing factor in the then-Governor’s historic decision in 2003 to grant clemency or pardon all of the individuals on the state’s Death Row.
The NCADP award was presented to the Firm by Robin M. Maher, Director of the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project.