McDermott Persuades Rhode Island Judge to Vacate 1992 Murder Conviction for Violation of Due Process Rights
BOSTON (July 14, 2015) – On July 13th, a Rhode Island Superior Court Judge vacated the 1992 murder conviction of Raymond Tempest, the pro bono client of a team of McDermott Will & Emery lawyers led by Boston white collar partner Michael Kendall, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. McDermott filed a post-conviction petition on Mr. Tempest’s behalf in 2014, and the court held a ten-week evidentiary hearing requiring twenty-four days of testimony earlier this year.
During the hearing, McDermott lawyers presented evidence that Mr. Tempest was wrongfully convicted, framed by police who coached and coerced testimony from known drug dealers and criminals, and implicated by witnesses who falsely claimed that Tempest had bragged of the murder. The McDermott team also introduced new DNA evidence, not available 23 years ago, that hair found clutched in the victim’s hand did not belong to Mr. Tempest.
Noting that “the factual complexity” of Mr. Tempest’s case stood “unparalleled in the history of Rhode Island post-conviction relief,” Judge Procaccini concluded that McDermott lawyers had established police and prosecutorial misconduct, including coercing a confession, knowingly producing false witness testimony, tampering with the murder weapon and withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, which required the vacation of Mr. Tempest’s conviction. Judge Procaccini also rejected the State’s argument that Mr. Tempest waited too long to assert his claims, finding that “the Herculean task of investigating Mr. Tempest’s case cannot be understated.”
McDermott took on Mr. Tempest’s case in 2012 after a referral from the New England Innocence Project, whose former executive director testified at the evidentiary hearing that the case required “very brave counsel with significant resources.” Several other law firms had refused the case because of its age and complexity. Over vigorous opposition from the state, the McDermott team subsequently secured a post-conviction re-hearing based on a motion citing new DNA evidence supporting the client’s claim of innocence, multiple due process violations, and ineffective assistance of prior counsel.
Six McDermott lawyers subsequently devoted thousands of hours to the matter, which – as a Providence Journal reporter wrote – has “…haunted Woonsocket and stained the reputation of the Police Department.”
In a 78-page opinion, Judge Procaccini wrote that, “With over a decade between the events and questioning and a virtually endless loop of suggestive interviews, police procedure in the Tempest case created a perfect storm for flawed witness statements.” He added, “The taint of improper procedure so poisoned the well that Mr. Tempest’s conviction cannot stand.”
Judge Procaccini concluded, “This Court finds two independent bases—the suppression of favorable evidence and the unduly suggestive interviewing of witnesses—that establish Mr. Tempest’s due process rights were violated before and during his trial in 1992.” Invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., Judge Procaccini noted that “[t]oday, after over twenty years, the arc [of history] bends. Accordingly, Mr. Tempest’s petition to set aside his conviction is granted.”
“We congratulate our McDermott team on their extraordinary skill and commitment, which epitomizes the noblest ideals of our profession and shows how the work of a small, dedicated group can, over time, bend the arc of history,” said McDermott co-chairs Jeffrey E. Stone and Peter J. Sacripanti. “It is a compelling reminder of the ways in which the justice system can be abused, and how there is no substitute for good people working hard to achieve a just result.”
Boston trial partner Matthew Turnell and Boston white collar associate Kate Dyson initially brought the case into McDermott and organized the team’s vigorous efforts. Michael Kendall served as the lead trial counsel. Boston associates Karen Eisenstadt, Sam Feldman and Evan Panich played pivotal roles in the case and presented trial witnesses. Chicago associate Jennifer Aronoff, Denise Martone and Sara Brine provided substantial support.
About McDermott’s Commitment to Pro Bono Work
McDermott Will & Emery recognizes and appreciates the need to give back to the communities of which it is a part and to assist those who are unable to afford legal services. The Firm offers a comprehensive pro bono and community service program managed and led by a full-time Pro Bono Partner and the chair of our Pro Bono & Community Service Committee, which seeks to ensure that the same standards of quality, service and care that McDermott gives to its paying clients are also afforded to those it serves on a pro bono basis. The Firm strongly encourages its lawyers and staff to participate in pro bono initiatives, volunteer services and charitable activities. For more about McDermott’s commitment to social responsibility, click here.
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