Former Death Row Inmate Wins New Trial Following more than 15 Years of Advocacy
December 09, 2011
In 1985, Erskine Johnson (who later changed his name to Ndume Olatushani), was convicted of a murder stemming from a grocery store robbery in Memphis, Tennessee and was sentenced to death. When Cleary Gottlieb began representing Erskine in 1995, he was on death row. Shortly after Erskine’s trial, exculpatory evidence withheld by the prosecution was discovered. In 2001, Cleary Gottlieb succeeded in having his death sentence set aside (on Brady grounds), and in 2004 the firm persuaded the prosecution not to seek the death penalty again and instead to agree to a life sentence. Since then, Cleary Gottlieb has been litigating in the Tennessee state courts to have Mr. Johnson's conviction reversed.
Most recently, the Cleary Gottlieb team filed a “writ of error coram nobis” requesting that the court consider facts not on the trial record that might have changed the outcome of the jury’s decision. The firm argued that newly discovered evidence entitled Erskine to a new trial, especially in light of substantial exculpatory evidence that the State wrongfully withheld from the defense when the case was first tried. The lower court disagreed and dismissed the writ. However, on December 9, the Tennessee appellate court, in a 3-0 decision, reversed that judgment, vacated Erskine's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
More than 25 Cleary Gottlieb lawyers have advocated on behalf of Erskine Johnson for more than 15 years.