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Paul, Weiss Secures Release for Wrongfully Convicted Pro Bono Client After 16 Years in Prison

Paul, Weiss and co-counsel at the Innocence Project secured the release on bail of our longtime pro bono client, Darrill Henry, who has served nearly 16 years behind bars for two homicide convictions.

Mr. Henry was released on May 7, after the Louisiana Supreme Court dismissed the District Attorney’s second appeal, affirming the bail order of the trial court. The release comes more than a month after Mr. Henry had been ordered released on bail by the trial court, but the Orleans Parish District Attorney pursued two separate appeals up to the Louisiana Supreme Court to prevent his release.

In 2004, Mr. Henry was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two elderly women. He was held in jail until his 2011 state court trial, in which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In 2016, the Paul, Weiss team and the Innocence Project filed an application for post-conviction relief, along with a motion for DNA testing on several items of evidence recovered from the crime scene.

After extensive briefing and hearings, the trial judge granted this motion on March 12 of this year, with Mr. Henry and much of his family present to hear the decision. As concerns related to the spread of COVID-19 in prisons across the country escalated, and Mr. Henry’s prison, the Louisiana State Penitentiary—known as Angola Prison, the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S.—was designated the institution where state inmates suffering from COVID-19 would be transferred, the Paul, Weiss team filed a bail application on Mr. Henry’s behalf. Pending the State’s expected appeal, the Paul, Weiss team then filed a motion seeking his immediate release, highlighting concerns related to COVID-19 in state prisons. The District Attorney vigorously opposed this motion. On April 2, the trial court granted the application and set bail at $400,000. Working with the Innocence Project, Mr. Henry’s family and The First 72+, a non-profit organization committed to helping former prison inmates re-enter their communities, our client was able to raise sufficient funds to obtain a bond to secure his release. The prison immediately began processing Mr. Henry for release, and he gave away his belongings to other inmates.

While the release process was underway, the District Attorney filed an emergency appeal with the intermediate appellate state court and obtained a stay of the trial court’s bail order. The appellate court rejected the appeal two days later, lifted the stay and affirmed the bail order. Hours after the appellate court’s decision, the District Attorney sought and obtained a stay in the Louisiana Supreme Court. On April 17, the Louisiana Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court, instructing it to consider additional factors in setting bail.

On April 24, the trial court held another hearing on our motion for bail, hearing witnesses from both sides. The trial court reaffirmed its initial order and added further conditions for Mr. Henry’s release. The District Attorney then filed another appeal with the intermediate appellate court, which denied that appeal two days later. The District Attorney then proceeded with an immediate appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which was denied on May 6.

On May 7, Mr. Henry was finally released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary and reunited with his family after nearly 16 years in prison. He will remain free on bail while awaiting the District Attorney’s appeal of the trial court’s grant of a new trial.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation associates Daniel Friel, Ariane Rockoff-Kirk and Johan Tatoy and counsel Aaron Delaney. The team was supervised by litigation partner Michele Hirshman and was assisted by many other current and former colleagues.

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