PRO BONO: ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Weighing the Evidence

Lawyers in London partner with Innocence Network UK to try
to overturn a 30-year-old conviction with new evidence

The alleged murderer was found unconscious. On one foot he was wearing a leather Doc Martens boot. Jammed on the other foot was a white sneaker, two sizes too small for him, which matched imprints in the bloody crime scene. He had fallen (or was he thrown?) from a fourth-floor window, his back broken and head severely injured not just by the fall, but curiously by a blow from the murder weapon. The brutal killing, involving 27 blows with a claw hammer, caused the victim to bleed out completely, covering the floor and walls of the apartment. But there was not a trace of the victim’s blood found anywhere on the man found unconscious on the ground that night in 1980, 17-year-old Gary Critchley. Critchley spent three months in the hospital recovering from his injuries, which left him with no memory of what happened that night. Upon discharge from medical care, Critchley was arrested for the murder, tried and convicted. On an indeterminate sentence, the judge recommended a maximum of nine years because Critchley was a minor. He would serve 30, in part because he continued to maintain his innocence at parole hearings.

In 2012, White & Case in London—led by litigation head John Reynolds, partner Robert Wheal, and associates Rory Hishon and David Milton—became the first law firm accepted as a partner by the Innocence Network UK, a nonprofit organization that seeks to have wrongful convictions set aside. Until White & Case’s involvement, Innocence Project UK had relied exclusively on pro bono assistance from faculty, staff and students from several UK universities. This was also a first for the Firm’s London office—it had never before made a foray into pro bono criminal representation.

Reynolds is leading the team in a full forensic examination of the evidence that was presented at trial against Critchley. The passage of so much time has complicated the effort, as has the closure of the UK government repository that had stored police evidence. The White & Case team of some 18 associates and trainees has interviewed witnesses as far away as Sweden, obtained legal filings and evidentiary documents from the original case, and scoured them for new leads and sought vital forensic evidence from the relevant authorities. Its aim is to gather enough new evidence to show that Critchley is factually innocent of the original charges and then file a petition with the Criminal Cases Review Commission to overturn the conviction and seek redress for him.

In March 2012, subsequent to White & Case’s engagement, Critchley was finally released on parole. He is now attempting to build a life after so much time behind bars, and finds comfort in writing and art, which is published on a website named for his prisoner number. White & Case continues to press the investigation, striving to deliver for Critchley a legal verdict to match what he has maintained for 30 years—his innocence.
See a larger version of Critchley's painting

The judge recommended a maximum of nine years because Critchley was a minor. He would serve 30, in part because he continued to maintain his innocence.

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