Dozens of Kentucky Inmates Released After DPA’s Constitutional Challenge Prevails
Last fall, before the ink on her license was even dry, Miranda Hellman began challenging the constitutionality of KRS 532.400(1)(b), which requires some inmates to receive an additional year of supervision after their sentences are completed. In March 2018, the Franklin Circuit Court granted Ms. Hellman’s motion and held the statute unconstitutional as it applied to her client, resulting in his release.
Ms. Hellman did not stop there, but went back to court to try to win the release of all inmates being held for violations of the unconstitutional statute. On September 19, 2018, the Franklin Circuit Court entered a permanent injunction ordering Corrections to release all individuals currently incarcerated or on supervision under KRS 532.400(1)(b) and prevented any future application of the statute by DOC. Rather than follow the order, Corrections went to the Court of Appeals to try to get the order reversed. On October 31, 2018, a final denial of Corrections’ motion was entered by the Court of Appeals.
According to Corrections, 54 inmates in custody under the now-void statute will be released immediately and anyone currently on supervision under the statute will also be removed from supervision. These individuals have served out their sentence in its entirety and are now free.
Last week, the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers presented Miranda Hellman with its “Clarence Darrow Prodigy Award” in recognition of her outstanding work in this litigation.
Thanks to the entire team of the DPA Post-Conviction Branch who refused to rest until the injustice of the unconstitutional statute was rectified. There are at least 54 families who will welcome loved ones home because of their work.
Juvenile Post-Disposition Branch Wins Release for Six Clients, Saving Them and the State Fifty (50) Years of Incarceration
Among other duties, DPA’s Juvenile Post-Disposition Branch (JPDB) works with juvenile or adult clients who are charged or convicted in adult court for a felony that happened while they were a juvenile. In the law, these clients are called “youthful offenders.” By any measure, October was an extraordinary month for JPDB as three youthful offender clients had parole board hearings and all three were released, and three other youthful offender clients were released on probation after hearings to determine if they should be sent to an adult prison upon turning 18. JPDB attorney Laura Karem and others advocated for the three clients released on parole with the assistance of DPA Alternative Sentencing Worker Anthony Tanner, who produced a mitigation video submitted to the Parole Board along with reentry plans for all three youth. Anthony Tanner also assisted on the cases of the three clients released on probation, who were represented by attorneys Angela Slaton and Suzanne Hopf. Together, the JPDB teams saved these six youth from over 50 years of prison time and reunited them with their families, giving them much to be thankful for this holiday season.
New Evidence of Convicted Client’s Innocence Leads to a New Trial in Todd Circuit Court
Norman Graham was convicted in 2008 for the 1980 murder of his girlfriend. At his first trial in 1986, the jury could not reach a verdict and Graham was released from custody. Two decades later, cold case detectives revived his case and Graham was tried again. This time he was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Attorneys with the Kentucky Innocence Project (KIP), Amy Staples and Melanie Foote Hollingsworth, have been representing Mr. Graham for more than half a decade. Initially, they got DNA testing to try to show Graham’s innocence, but the court found the results of that testing to be inconclusive. Later, KIP investigator Jimmer Dudley was able to secure statements from several individuals who were in the same trailer park on the evening of the murder. These witnesses gave sworn statements that their brother – now convicted of another murder under similar circumstances – was the real killer. They claimed they knew what he was doing on the night of the offense, but did not come forward because they were terrified of their brother and their mother, who protected him.
After much litigation, the court held hearings in April and June to consider the new evidence. On October 5, Special Judge Easton entered an order granting a new trial.
This is an amazing accomplishment, and a testament to the value of persistence and never giving up when you know you and your client are right. Congratulations to Jimmer, Melanie and Amy! And congratulations to KIP, which now has five exonerations since 2014.
(Submitted by Tim Arnold, Post-Trial Division Director)