Simpson Thacher Attorneys Help Secure Release of Incarcerated Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a compassionate and perseverant team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (“STB”) and Fincap Law who helped to secure the release of their incarcerated pro bono client Marie A.  The team includes attorneys from Fincap (Ellen Frye) and STB (Mark Stein, Sara Ricciardi, Jerry Fang, Shanice Hinckson, and former associates Sara Estela, Arielle Herzberg, and Rachel Fleder).

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” This was the mantra of the STB/Fincap team representing Marie A. over the course of two separate matters.  And succeed they did.

After an unexpectedly hard-fought and ultimately unsuccessful contested hearing seeking Marie’s release from prison under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (“DVSJA”), all hope appeared to be lost. But the team quickly pivoted to help prepare Marie for her parole hearing at Albion Correctional Facility.  What drove Marie and the team to success? It was the close attorney-client bond that was formed through the face of adversity, and Marie’s continued perseverance.

Former STB Counsel & current Head of Antitrust & Americas at Fincap, Ellen Frye, recounts: “We were devastated after the DVSJA decision and felt like we failed our client. But Marie was upbeat and so grateful for our help.  She always remained positive and level-headed.  We knew that we could not give up on her.”

Marie met her boyfriend at a bar after separating from her husband and father to her five children. The relationship quickly took a turn for the worse.  Marie was brutally abused physically and sexually by her domestic partner, including at times in front of her children and while she was pregnant. Feeling she had no other option, Marie sought help from employees at the bar where she worked. The group then proceeded to kill Marie’s domestic partner and was arrested and prosecuted for their acts. Marie was convicted of second-degree murder and spent more than 18 years in prison, where she struggled terribly. She was in constant pain and rarely slept through the night. An unlikely ally helped secure her release by convincing Sanctuary and the STB/Fincap team to take on her case – Marie’s husband!

The team spent months with Marie working on her DVSJA application during the height of the COVID pandemic and frequently traveled back-and-forth to Albion, NY to meet with their client. The DVSJA permits judges to reduce criminal sentences if the applicant was “a victim of domestic violence subjected to substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse inflicted by a member of the same family or household,” the abuse was “a significant contributing factor” to the crime, and, after taking all the circumstances into account, the sentence is “unduly harsh.”  Marie seemed like a perfect candidate for the new law.

But rather than support Marie’s application, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office opposed the application, leading to a highly contentious hearing in which Marie testified about her traumatic past and was forced to relive her nightmares based on the People’s aggressive approach.  Unfortunately, the court did not rule in Marie’s favor, but this was a mere setback.

“We were never defeated because Marie was never defeated.  We always wanted to figure out the next steps so that we could prevail.” – Shanice Hinckson, STB Associate

And the next step was indeed successful. Marie was eligible for early release on parole based on her impeccable disciplinary and programmatic record while incarcerated, and the STB/Fincap team immediately transitioned their focus to her upcoming hearing. The attorney-client pairing worked relentlessly to craft the strongest narrative possible. And the team contacted Marie’s friends, family, defense attorney, and local advocacy organizations to gather letters of support to present to the Parole Board. Everyone’s hard work and dedication paid off when Marie was released from Albion this past May!

Sanctuary for Families Director of Legal Center, Dorchen Leidholdt, remarked on how extraordinarily rare it was for someone convicted of second-degree murder to be released on parole in their first attempt and recognized the crucial role the team played:

“Gold standard lawyering with a thoroughly compassionate client management approach.” – Dorchen Leidholdt, Sanctuary Legal Director

After Marie was released from prison, she moved back in with her husband on Long Island. She informed Sanctuary and the legal team that it was like she never left.  She says that while her body was in prison, her heart was always home. And now she is home as well, and she can sleep through the night again.

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on Oct. 26, 2021, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Fincap’s outstanding pro bono work outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Justin is a proud member of the PBC and co-chair of Above and Beyond.