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Balch & Bingham’s Pro Bono Amicus Brief Supports New Trial for Death-Row Prisoner Toforest Johnson

On March 9, 2021, Balch & Bingham’s Adam Israel, partner, and Robert Baxley, attorney, co-authored and filed a pro bono amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of legal ethics professors in support of Toforest Johnson’s petition for a new trial. Mr. Johnson has been on Alabama’s death row for the past 22 years, for a crime he maintains he did not commit. Mr. Johnson’s arrest was based on statements from a witness who admitted repeatedly lying to the police and prosecutors under oath. Leading up to and during Mr. Johnson’s trial, prosecutors could not settle on a theory of who committed the murder, arguing five different theories of the murder at five different court proceedings. And during his trial, material facts were not disclosed to the jury, such as the fact that the State’s key witness was motivated by a $5,000 reward, and several alibi witnesses for Mr. Johnson did not testify.

The amicus brief supports Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr’s request that the Jefferson County Circuit Court set aside Mr. Johnson’s conviction and death sentence and grant Mr. Johnson’s petition for a new trial. 

The legal ethics scholars that Balch represented as amici curiae advocating for a new trial for Mr. Johnson include: 

  • Professor John L. Carroll; Professor of Law, Cumberland School of Law;
  • Professor A. Jerome Dees; Professor of Law, Thomas Goode Jones School of
    Law;
  • Professor Susan Donovan; Director, Mediation Law Clinic, University of
    Alabama School of Law;
  • Professor Heather Elliott; Alumni, Class of ’36 Professor of Law, University
    of Alabama School of Law;
  • Professor Russell Gold; Associate Professor of Law, University of Alabama
    School of Law;
  • Professor Shalini Bhargava Ray; Assistant Professor of Law, University of
    Alabama School of Law; and
  • Professor William G. Ross; Albert P. Brewer Professor of Law and Ethics,
    Cumberland School of Law.

 

These law professors are among a larger group of advocates, faith leaders, public defenders, and former judges and prosecutors, including former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, Jr., who are supporting efforts to secure a new trial for Mr. Johnson. This wide-ranging support for Mr. Johnson’s case is unprecedented in Alabama circuit court history. In the brief Balch submitted, those scholars praised Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr for supporting Mr. Johnson’s petition for a new trial and highlighted a prosecutor’s ongoing ethical duty to seek justice, even post-conviction.

 

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