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Dorsey Attorneys Win Victory for Death-Row Inmate Joe Lee Guy, Federal Judge Overturns Death Penalty.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A team of Dorsey attorneys has successfully challenged the death sentence for Joe Lee Guy, an inmate on death row in Texas. The Dorsey team sought to overturn Guy's death sentence on the ground that Guy's court-appointed investigator had a flagrant conflict of interest and had, as a result, performed little or no investigation into important aspects of Guy's case. At a hearing on June 25, 2004, Judge Sam R. Cummings, U.S. District Court Judge in Lubbock, Texas, threw out Guy's death sentence and sent the case back to state court. The prosecutor in that court has expressed his willingness to enter into an agreement for a life sentence.

Guy was convicted for his role in a 1993 convenience-store robbery in Plainview, TX in which the store owner was killed, and his elderly mother wounded. Guy, alleged to be the unarmed lookout, received the death sentence; the alleged mastermind and shooters, in separate trials, received life sentences.

The Dorsey team - led by Steve Wells and Pat McLaughlin, partners in Dorsey's Minneapolis office - has been working on a federal habeas petition since February 2000. The Dorsey team uncovered evidence that Guy's unlicensed investigator, Frank SoRelle, developed a relationship with the surviving crime victim (the only eyewitness to the crime) and, within weeks of the Guy's conviction, was named the sole beneficiary of her substantial estate. She died several months later, leaving the investigator with an estate worth approximately $750,000.

Compromised by the investigator's conflict of interest, Guy's defense lawyer presented only sparse testimony concerning Guy's childhood and upbringing during the punishment phase of Guy's trial. The Dorsey team located dozens of potential character witnesses who had never been contacted by the investigator - witnesses who described Guy's childhood as one marked by isolation and rejection. Friends and family members recalled that his mother was addicted to gambling and drugs and frequently left Guy and his sister to fend for themselves. His father, an alcoholic, was murdered. His elementary school classmates threw pennies at him for entertainment, laughing as the impoverished boy picked them off the floor. But the jury in his capital trial heard none of that character evidence because the defense investigator failed to find any witnesses who could have provided it.

After a four-day hearing at which the Dorsey team presented evidence of the investigator's conflict of interest and its serious impact on Guy's defense, Judge Cummings vacated the death sentence. In his written order, Judge Cummings held that, "SoRelle, during the course of trial preparation, transitioned from defense investigator to mercenary."

"It was a gross injustice that Joe Lee Guy received the death sentence in the first place," Mr. McLaughlin commented. "And we are very pleased that we were able to help rectify that injustice."

"Joe Lee Guy came within weeks of being executed," said Mr. Wells. "Our team worked long and hard to uncover the facts that led to Mr. Guy's inadequate defense, and we are gratified by the Court's decision."

About Dorsey & Whitney

Since 1992, when the firm signed on to the American Bar Association's "Pro Bono Challenge," Dorsey has contributed at least 3% of its yearly billable hours to pro bono work. "Pro bono" refers to legal services provided free of charge as a public service. In 2003, the firm won the prestigious National Law Journal Pro Bono Award.

With over 650 lawyers in 20 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, Dorsey provides an integrated, proactive approach to our clients' legal and business needs. Dorsey represents a number of the world's most successful Fortune 500 companies from a variety of disciplines including leaders in the financial services, investment banking, life sciences, securities, technology and energy sectors, as well as nonprofit and government entities.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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