Karnell Continues Firm’s Partnership with Tennessee Innocence Project to Fight Wrongful Conviction and 249-Year Sentence

Nashville, Tenn., (February 15, 2022) – Bass, Berry & Sims is pleased to announce that Nashville litigator Ashleigh Karnell has begun a six-month fellowship supporting the Tennessee Innocence Project (TIP) as part of the firm’s Pro Bono Fellowship Program. As the fourth Fellow in the program, Karnell will continue the firm’s longstanding support of TIP and its mission of ensuring justice for the wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. This fellowship continues the firm’s pro bono commitment to protecting civil rights and addressing inequality and racial injustice.

“We are grateful to have attorneys like Ashleigh who are passionate about serving our communities and important organizations like TIP,” said David Esquivel, pro bono member at Bass, Berry & Sims. “Since it launched in 2019 as a cornerstone of our firm’s pro bono commitment, the Pro Bono Fellowship Program has proven to be an effective initiative to allow our talented lawyers to focus on these important issues full-time.”

Working with TIP, Karnell will continue the work to exonerate Artis Whitehead, a Black man in Memphis, currently serving a 249-year sentence in connection with a 2002 robbery. Memphis-based attorney Danielle Dudding Irvine worked on the same matter during her fellowship with TIP in 2020 and has continued representing Whitehead after she returned to the firm. Bass, Berry & Sims and TIP have been representing Whitehead since fall 2019.  Whitehead has asserted his innocence since his arrest in 2003, and his case includes issues of eyewitness identification, a confidential informant, and forensic evidence. For more information on the Whitehead case, please click here.

“We are proud of our relationship with TIP and our shared commitment to enacting systemic change to protect civil rights and ensure equal access to justice for all,” Esquivel said. “Wrongful conviction is a crucial issue in our nationwide pursuit of social justice and equality. Tennessee was one of the last states to formalize an organization focused on this problem and we are fortunate that TIP has emerged as a true leader to move our state forward in protecting the innocent in our system.”

Originally formed in 2000 as an all-volunteer nonprofit, TIP has served as a crucial advocate for justice in Tennessee, both in the courtroom and through policy reform. TIP has been behind key justice initiatives in the state, including helping to draft, obtain legislative sponsorship, and advocate for the passage of the Tennessee Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001. After the organization operated as a law school training program between 2009 and 2018, a dedicated group of individuals created TIP as its own freestanding nonprofit in 2019. In August 2021, the organization saw its first exoneration followed by two more exonerations announced in January 2022. In addition to efforts in the Whitehead case, Karnell will also support TIP by reviewing case files under consideration for the nonprofit’s involvement.

“Our state and justice system still have a long way to go, but we are grateful to have a partner like Bass, Berry & Sims that continues to set an example for how businesses and legal advocates can help move the needle,” said Jessica Van Dyke, executive director and lead counsel with TIP. “We are excited to welcome Ashleigh to our team over the next six months as we continue the important work to advocate for Mr. Whitehead and other innocent people struggling within our legal system.”

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with the amazing and inspiring people at TIP in the coming months,” Karnell said. “Many of us are deeply passionate about doing work that can bring about meaningful social change, and I’m grateful to work at a firm that encourages us to take time away from our busy law practices to work with incredible organizations and actually make it happen.”

At Bass, Berry & Sims, Karnell practices in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice Group. She represents clients in complex business disputes and breach of contract disputes. She also counsels in antitrust and trade compliance related to proposed mergers and acquisitions. Karnell earned a law degree from Belmont University College of Law (2017) and a B.A. from Indiana University (2014).

About the Bass, Berry & Sims Pro Bono Fellowship Program

The Bass, Berry & Sims Pro Bono Fellowship Program was established in April 2019 and is one of the cornerstones of the firm’s pro bono initiative, which includes a focus on matters that strengthen families, empower communities and protect civil rights. The Fellowship allows attorneys to be paid their full compensation and benefits while working for up to six months full-time in a pro bono capacity within the community. To date, the firm has sponsored a Fellow in Nashville with the Choosing Justice Initiative, a Fellow in Memphis with TIP and a Fellow with the Nashville General Sessions Court. For more information, please click here.

About Tennessee Innocence Project (TIP)

TIP was established in February 2019 to focus on representing wrongfully convicted men and women in the state of Tennessee with the goal to help exonerate these innocent individuals. Until the official launch of TIP, Tennessee was only one of two states without an organization investigating and litigating innocence claims in the United States. More information can be found at www.tninnocence.org.

About Bass, Berry & Sims PLC

With more than 300 attorneys representing numerous publicly traded companies and Fortune 500 businesses, Bass, Berry & Sims has been involved in some of the largest and most significant litigation matters, investigations and business transactions in the country. Our attorneys work seamlessly across substantive practice disciplines, industries and geographies to deliver highly effective service and business-focused solutions. For more information, visit bassberry.com.