The support of others helped create The Exoneration Initiative and are making it a viable force in the fight to free the wrongfully convicted.
William Hellerstein, Professor of Law at Brooklyn School of Law, advised EXI during its formation and provides guidance and support on an ongoing basis. He brings his lifelong commitment to indigent criminal defense. Professor Hellerstein devoted 21 years to the Legal Aid Society of New York, where he worked in the Criminal Appeals Bureau, including 16 years as Chief of the Bureau. During his tenure at the Legal Aid Society, Professor Hellerstein argued and prevailed on cases before the United States Supreme Court. He also founded the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project and Parole Revocation Defense Unit. After leaving Legal Aid, Professor Hellerstein established and directed the Second Look Program, a non-DNA Innocence Project at Brooklyn Law School which evaluated thousands of cases and won exonerations for innocent New York State prisoners. He currently serves on New York's Justice Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, established by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the Court of Appeals. Professor Hellerstein is a member of EXI's Board of Directors, and has been instrumental to the success of EXI.
Susan Sarandon is an actress, philanthropist, and a social and political activist who is deeply involved in the Innocence Movement. She starred in the film The Exonerated which dramatized the stories of six people who were wrongfully convicted of murder and later exonerated. Ms. Sarandon, who will also serve on the Board of Directors, supported The Exoneration Initiative since inception.
Roberto Finzi is a partner at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Mr. Finzi and his firm have been involved in all aspects of the Initiative. Mr. Finzi’s commitment to the pro bono representation of the wrongfully convicted is beyond measure. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison created EXI’s corporate and not-for-profit structure and has been an integral part of its development and success.
Paul Shechtman, a partner at the law firm Stillman, Friedman & Shectman LLP, offered guidance when EXI was a mere concept. His understanding of all aspects of the criminal justice system and his unconditional support helped to define the Initiative’s mission. Mr. Shechtman serves on EXI’s Board of Directors.
08 May 2013
Exoneration Initiative client Devon Ayers was released from prison on January 23, 2013, after serving more than 17 years behind bars for two 1995 Bronx homicides he did not commit: the murder of a Federal Express executive in her apartment, and the felony murder of a livery driver in his cab two days later and four blocks away. There was no physical evidence tying the murders to Ayers or to one another - they were connected only by the prosecution's witnesses who claimed that Ayers and his codefendants committed both. Ayers was exonerated of the livery driver's murder in December, based on reliable confessions from the true killers which proved that that the prosecution's only witnesses on both murders were wrong. On January 23, prosecutors finally conceded that Ayers' conviction for the second murder must also fall.
Ayers' release came three months after EXI, in conjunction with attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, filed a motion to exonerate him of both murders. He is thrilled to be reunited with his family, including his 18 year old daughter who was only 4 months old when he went to jail. Had he not been exonerated, Ayers would have had to serve 50 years to life in prison.
Ayers was released with the understanding that the Bronx District Attorney's Office would be given 90 days to decide whether it had any credible evidence to justify re-trying him and his codefendants. But on the 90th day, the Bronx District Attorney's Office announced for the first time its intention to attempt biological testing on evidence recovered in the Federal Express executive's murder. This testing had been requested by Ayers and his codefendants numerous times over the past decade, but the Bronx District Attorney's Office previously opposed these requests, claiming that the evidence was not relevant. It now insists that the charges against Ayers and his codefendants cannot be officially dropped until the testing is completed, further delaying justice for these innocent men and preventing them from moving on with their lives.
ABC Eyewitness News Reports on Ayers' Release
Read More in The New York Times
15 April 2013
On June 20, 2012, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed Derrick Deacon's 1990 conviction for a Brooklyn murder and ordered a new trial based on newly discovered evidence of innocence: two federal cooperators who were insider gang members knew the real killers, who confessed to them. An eyewitness to the crime also recanted her trial testimony.
EXI investigated the case and filed a motion to vacate the conviction. Attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, led by Roberto Finzi, conducted the post-conviction hearing and after the motion was denied, successfully argued the appeal in the Second Department. EXI filed an amicus brief in support of Deacons appeal and in an effort to advance doctrinal law in the Second Department - namely, that fairness requires state courts to take a comprehensive, integrated view of the evidence when considering post-conviction newly discovered evidence claims, especially in non-DNA innocence cases.
It is extremely rare that an appellate court will make credibility findings that conflict with the lower court as the Appellate Division did in this case. After finding that the hearing witnesses' testimony was "credible and compelling," the Court held that "the likely cumulative effect of the newly discovered evidence and the recantation testimony established a reasonable probability that the result of a new trial would be a verdict more favorable to the defendant."
Read the Decision
Read More in The New York Times
Read More in The New York Law Journal
The Kings County District Attorney's Office appealed the decision to the New York State Court of Appeals, but EXI successfully moved to dismiss that appeal.
The Kings County District Attorney's Office has now announced its decision to re-try Deacon after 24 years. EXI will be representing Deacon at his retrial, which is currently scheduled for the end of May, 2013.