Law360 published an article in January 2024 detailing the three pro bono cases Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys were involved with in which wrongfully incarcerated individuals were released from prison. Bass, Berry & Sims collaborated with the Tennessee Innocence Project (TIP) to represent these men and in one case secured a full exoneration; the other two cases are being appealed.
Speaking about the valued partnership between law firms and TIP, Jason Gichner – deputy director and senior legal counsel at TIP – said “These types of collaborations mean the world to us. Anytime we can get smart, hardworking people that want to work these cases with us and we have, frankly, more boots on the ground, it’s great.”
The first release came in May 2023 after a team of attorneys from TIP and Bass, Berry & Sims secured the release of Wayne Burgess after serving 24 years of a life sentence. This followed the judge’s April 13 order vacating Burgess’s 1999 conviction for first-degree felony murder, which new testimony from the state’s medical examiner found was “not medically possible” for him to have committed. Mr. Burgess will not be retried. Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Ashleigh Karnell worked on this case, including during her time as a Pro Bono Fellow with TIP. Read more about Mr. Burgess’ case here.
Thomas Clardy had been convicted of a 2005 murder in Madison, Tennessee. In June 2023, a federal judge overturned Mr. Clardy’s conviction which has since been appealed by the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office. While the proceedings on appeal continue, Mr. Clardy’s legal team filed a motion for his immediate release, which was granted by Judge Trauger. Mr. Clardy was released from prison in October 2023 after 17 years of incarceration. Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Scott Gallisdorfer began working with TIP on the matter in 2019 and continues to represent Mr. Clardy in proceedings on appeal while advocating for his full exoneration.
Artis Whitehead was released from prison in December 2023. In 2003, Mr. Whitehead was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 249 years for a May 2002 robbery in Memphis, Tennessee. Beginning in 2019, TIP and the Bass, Berry & Sims pro bono team spent years developing extensive new evidence of Whitehead’s innocence. Taking this new evidence into consideration, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Fitzgerald issued a 93-page ruling vacating the conviction on multiple legal grounds. That decision is being appealed by the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office. Karnell and Bass, Berry & Sims alumna Danielle Dudding Irvine worked on this case.
Speaking about her work on the Burgess case, Karnell said, “I hope that maybe hearing stories like this will encourage other firms and other attorneys to get involved.”
“There’s just nothing more satisfying as a lawyer [than] to achieve the kind of results that we’ve been a part of in these cases,” Bass, Berry & Sims pro bono member David Esquivel told Law360.
The full article, “How Bass Berry Helped Free 3 Wrongfully Convicted Men,” was published by Law360 on January 19 and is available online. More details about each case can also be found here.