Artis Whitehead spent almost 21 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. On December 10, 2023 Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Fitzgerald issued a 93-page written order vacating the conviction on multiple legal grounds based on new evidence developed by a team of pro bono attorneys from Bass, Berry & Sims and the Tennessee Innocence Project (TIP). The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has determined that it will not re-try the case.
Artis Whitehead was 40 years old when he was sentenced for a 2002 robbery at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis, Tennessee. Although there was no physical evidence connecting him to the robbery and he did not match the description of the suspect, Mr. Whitehead was arrested and charged with the crime more than eight months after the robbery. In November 2003 he was convicted and received a sentence of 249 years.
Pro bono attorneys at Bass, Berry & Sims started working with TIP to free Mr. Whitehead in 2019. Bass, Berry & Sims alumna Danielle Dudding Irvine – now an associate at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP in New York – started representing Mr. Whitehead in 2019 and continued the representation through his release, including six months as a Bass, Berry & Sims Pro Bono Fellow with TIP when she worked nearly full-time on Mr. Whitehead’s case. The Bass, Berry & Sims pro bono team also included Ashleigh Karnell, Alex Agee, Courtney Black, Whitney Burley, Roee Talmor and Abby Yi. In total, Bass, Berry & Sims provided over 2,700 hours of pro bono work on Mr. Whitehead’s case.
Speaking of Mr. Whitehead’s release, Ashleigh stated, “It was such a privilege to represent Mr. Whitehead beside TIP and develop proof that he was wrongfully convicted. While nothing can replace the time that was taken from Mr. Whitehead, I am thrilled that he will get to spend this holiday season with friends and family. Mr. Whitehead’s case is an amazing example of the critical work that Innocence Projects and their pro bono partners are doing to obtain justice for those who need it the most.”
Mr. Whitehead is the third Bass, Berry & Sims pro bono client released from incarceration in 2023 based on claims of actual innocence. Read details about the exoneration of Wayne Burgess here and the release of Thomas Clardy here.
Media coverage surrounding the Mr. Whitehead’s case included:
- “Man Convicted in B.B. King Robbery in Memphis Freed After 20 Years in Prison. Here’s Why,” The Commercial Appeal (December 15, 2023)
- “Man Wrongfully Convicted of Robbery on Beale Freed After 21 Years Behind Bars,” News Channel 3 (December 15, 2023)
- “Shelby County DA Will Not Stand In Way of 2002 Beale Street Robbery Case Getting New Trial,” The Commercial Appeal (September 28, 2023)