Tennessee Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder is Set Free

Sidley Austin Gains Innocent Man’s Freedom After Four Years of Pro Bono Efforts

WASHINGTON--()--On Monday, October 4, a Tennessee Court ordered David Housler released on bail, and Mr. Housler walked out of prison a free man, after serving 15 years of a life sentence for four murders he did not commit. A team of lawyers from the Washington D.C. office of law firm Sidley Austin LLP, led by partner Paul Hemmersbaugh, secured the release of Mr. Housler, who had been erroneously convicted of quadruple homicide in the notorious “Taco Bell” murders in Clarksville, Tennessee. The bail ruling and Mr. Housler’s release followed the Court’s recent decision vacating his 1997 convictions.

On January 30, 1994, four victims were discovered shot to death inside a Clarksville Taco Bell restaurant. Courtney Mathews was convicted of the killings in 1996, based on overwhelming physical evidence, in a trial in which the State argued he had acted alone in committing the murders. Nearly 18 months later, Mr. Housler was convicted as an accomplice, based on prosecutors’ new claim that he had acted as a lookout for Mr. Mathews.

Mr. Hemmersbaugh stated, “The evidence we presented in the Post Conviction Relief proceeding overwhelmingly showed that the State had convicted an innocent man, in a process infected with material errors from start to finish. This was by no means a matter of convictions being overturned based on a ‘technicality,’ but rather a case of justice eventually prevailing – slowly, at great cost and after far too long – but prevailing nonetheless.”

Sidley took over Mr. Housler’s case pro bono in 2007, after numerous appeals had been unsuccessful. The firm devoted more than 10,000 hours of the time of its lawyers and professional staff to the case. The Sidley team won the September 23 ruling vacating Mr. Housler’s convictions by proving that numerous fundamental constitutional violations had denied Mr. Housler a fair trial. The Court also separately found that new evidence – in particular the actual murderer’s 1994 confession to his own attorneys that he had acted alone and did not even know Mr. Housler – independently entitled Mr. Housler to a new trial.

The State of Tennessee, whose cross-motion for higher bail the Court denied this week, has not yet decided whether it will appeal the Court’s decision or seek to try Mr. Housler again.

Mr. Hemmersbaugh said, “The Court’s thorough and thoughtful ruling not only vindicates important constitutional rights and principles, it serves an even more fundamental and universal principle by voiding the criminal convictions of an innocent person. I believe that when the State objectively reviews this case and the Court’s decision, it will recognize that an innocent man was erroneously convicted, and that justice and fairness demand that the State allow Mr. Housler an opportunity to resume a normal life.”

The Sidley team (consisting of five lawyers from the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, including Mr. Hemmersbaugh and associates James Owens, Jason Vendel, Mick Flanagan and Bryson Bachman) presented evidence supporting four major themes underlying the Court’s decision. First and most important, Mr. Housler was innocent of the crimes, a fact substantiated by new evidence showing that Mr. Mathews acted alone and did not even know Mr. Housler.

Second, Mr. Housler’s statement, which prosecutors later used to claim he acted as a lookout, was provided only after his own lawyer accused him of the crime during lengthy interrogations that prosecutors testified were “intense and profane.” Mr. Housler’s appointed defense lawyer entered an agreement with the District Attorney that effectively required Mr. Housler to provide a story the State could use in its prosecution of the actual murderer. Because Mr. Housler was not involved in the crimes, however, he could not provide any truthful information about the crimes to prosecutors beyond what had been reported by the news media. Mr. Housler’s defense attorney left him alone to be interrogated by prosecutors for many hours, during which time Mr. Housler eventually signed a false statement – drafted by police – about the murders. Days after signing the statement in 1995 (long before his 1997 trial), Mr. Housler recanted. For 15 years since then, Mr. Housler has consistently maintained his innocence of any involvement in the crimes.

Third, after Mr. Housler gave the statement as his part of a plea agreement his lawyer had entered with the District Attorney, the prosecutor declared that Mr. Housler’s statement was false and therefore refused to honor the agreement. The prosecutor then turned around and used that same statement – which he had declared false – to indict (and ultimately convict) Mr. Housler for first degree murder. Finally, the false “confession” – the sole evidence supporting the conviction – never should have been presented to the jury, because its use against Mr. Housler was prohibited by multiple Tennessee laws.

Sidley Austin LLP is one of the world’s largest full-service law firms, with approximately 1600 lawyers practicing in 17 U.S. and international cities, including Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. Sidley is recognized for service and responsiveness. Sidley received the most first-tier national rankings of any U.S. law firm in the inaugural U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” rankings for 2010 and was named as one of the “Best Law Firms to Work For.” BTI, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, has named Sidley as one of only two firms to have been in the top ten of the BTI Client Service rankings every year since the inception of those rankings in 2001, and as number one in three of those years.

For purposes of the New York State Bar rules, this press release may be considered Attorney Advertising and the headquarters of the firm are Sidley Austin LLP 787 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10019, 212.839.5300 and Sidley Austin LLP One South Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60603, 312.853.7000. Prior results described herein do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Contacts

Sidley Austin LLP
Janet Zagorin, 212-839-8797
Director of Practice Development
jzagorin@sidley.com
or
Rubenstein Associates
Peter Pochna, 212-843-8007
ppochna@rubenstein.com

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Contacts

Sidley Austin LLP
Janet Zagorin, 212-839-8797
Director of Practice Development
jzagorin@sidley.com
or
Rubenstein Associates
Peter Pochna, 212-843-8007
ppochna@rubenstein.com