Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted




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Justice Denied's Award for Heroes At The Bar

Jeff Adachi The Lifer and the Lawyer Who Won't Quit.

Justice Denied honors those men and women who distinguish themselves above others and who fulfill our collective ideal of what it means to be an advocate. These are people who have not sought the limelight, but just did what was right. Sometimes these champions are paid for their work, but no one can pay enough money to move anyone's heart to fight hard for an innocent person. The great majority of innocent people in prison have no champion, and it is a cruel fact of life that many will die never having tasted the justice and freedom they deserved. We publish the names of these Heroes At The Bar to inspire and encourage others to fight the good fight for justice. Our thanks go to all the lawyers who toil against all the odds and often are poorly paid who do it for the reward of the deepest satisfaction of all -- acquitting themselves as excellent human beings. May their tribe increase!

If you know of any lawyer or paralegal or prosecutors who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help free an innocent person, we want to know about it. We want to give them our award of excellence. Contact Justice: Denied

JEFF ADACHI: The Lifer and the Lawyer Who Won't Quit

By Linda Cordero, JD Guest Contributor

After 10 years behind bars, J.J. Tennison still maintains his innocence, and his public defender is still fighting for him.

In August 1989, Roderick Shannon was beaten and killed in San Francisco's Visitacion Valley neighborhood. The attack claimed two lives and sent nine others to the hospital with gunshot wounds. In late 1990, two young men were convicted of the killing and sentenced to 25 to life. Ten years later, both men maintain their innocence.

At trial, the prosecution relied extensively on the ever-evolving testimony of two young thieves in obtaining convictions. Jeff Adachi, a new public defender with only three years experience, was assigned to represent J.J. Tennison. He found a case riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, and stories that often made no sense. Believing the prosecution had a flimsy case, the young attorney didn't mount a major-league defense. He figured his client would walk. The jury ruling finding J.J. Tennison guilty stunned his legal team.

When a client is found guilty, the public defender nearly always washes his or her hands of the matter, strolling off as the former client is led away. Appeals are left to state-paid lawyers or private counsel. Not so here, where Jeff Adachi immediately met with his investigator and committed to start over, excavate fresh evidence and reconstruct the case.

A month later, San Francisco police officers picked up Lovinsky Ricard, Jr. on a routine drug warrant. Ricard confessed to the killing of Shannon, just like in the movies. However, a judge found the confession unreliable and refused Tennison's request for a new trial. Three years later, as the investigation continued, an eyewitness stepped forward with a detailed version of the killing, confirming that the convicted men had no part in it. Surely Tennison could go free, now. Wrong again -- the district attorney didn't feel the witness' narrative was strong enough to reopen the case.

Adachi states that he will never, ever, give up on his client. "I don't care what it takes. I could be 80 years old. I'll never give up."

Over the last decade, four courts have vetoed Tennison's bid for a new trial. Last month, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the highest-ranking federal court in the western United States, overturned the ruling of the trial court, instructing them to review J.J. Tennison's situation. It's not freedom, nor necessarily a new trial. It does require the trial court to examine the new eyewitness' sworn statement and Ricard's confession to determine whether a retrial should be ordered.

Dedication, persistence and responsibility to clients above and beyond the "call of duty," of which this case is but one example, have earned Jeff Adachi my respect and admiration, and my nomination as a Hero at the Bar.