Just days before a retrial was set to begin, our longtime pro bono client George Souliotes was freed from prison last week following 16 years of wrongful incarceration on a triple murder conviction. Our team has litigated the case through the federal courts for several years, seeing Mr. Souliotes through many twists and turns in his battle for justice, including a hard-fought habeas victory (an extremely rare finding of actual innocence) last year and a federal judge's decision in March 2013 to overturn the conviction, prior to the State of California's decision to retry him on the charges. That trial had been scheduled to begin July 8.
Last week, lawyers successfully negotiated an agreement to secure his immediate freedom. Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Souliotes pled no contest to three counts of involuntary manslaughter for failure to maintain a working smoke alarm.
"The plea agreement exonerates Mr. Souliotes of the arson and murder charges he was wrongfully convicted of and further confirms the federal court's finding that he is completely innocent of those crimes," said Jimmy McBirney, Mr. Souliotes' lead attorney in the federal habeas proceedings. "This case should not have proceeded in state court at all, and we hope those responsible for ensuring justice will take greater care in examining other convictions based on outdated and discredited scientific evidence."
Orrick and the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law have represented Mr. Souliotes for more than 10 years, with Morrison & Foerster also joining the efforts in May. Our team is led by Jimmy McBirney with Shannon Leong and Alexis Yee-Garcia, and supervised by Thomas McConville.