Monday, March 27, the Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Reform at the College of William and Mary Law School hosted an inaugural event featuring a conversation with Senior Counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright United States L.L.P. Brian Stolarz and exoneree Alfred Dewayne Brown. Stolarz served as the habeas corpus attorney for Brown, the 13th exoneree from Texas’ death row and the 154th exoneree from death row nationally.
R. Hugh and Nolie Haynes professor of law and Director of the College’s Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Reform Kami Chavis moderated the conversation.
“Mr. Brown was officially exonerated in 2015 for a crime he did not commit, after spending 12 years incarcerated, nine of which were on Texas’ death row,” Chavis said. “He maintained his innocence throughout this time, and I think this is such an important case because it really exemplifies and embodies so much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system in the United States.”
Chavis mentioned that during Brown’s time in prison, the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence from his case, thus leading to his wrongful conviction. Stolarz previously worked in both a private practice and in the criminal defense field before taking on Brown’s case pro bono.
“For many years, Mr. Stolarz worked to make sense of the limited evidence that was available, and it was revealed that some exculpatory evidence that corroborated Mr. Brown’s alibi was found. He could not have been at the scene of the crime when prosecutors alleged that he was,” Chavis said.
Stolarz is also the author of “Grace and Justice on Death Row: The Race against Time and Texas to Free an Innocent Man,” which tells the story of Brown and the commitment to release him from his wrongful imprisonment.
Stolarz was a first-generation college and law student at the Columbus School of Law. After he graduated from Columbus, he became a public defender in Brooklyn, New York. Stolarz defended thousands of clients and described the many lessons he learned during his cases.
“I learned a ton of good lessons. One, I can humanize anybody if I get to know them, put myself in their shoes, and figure out who they are, and two, no one is as bad as their worst act. It was my job to humanize those people from the judge and get them the best possible deal I could, fighting for their rights,” Stolarz said.
A senior partner of Stolarz called him and requested his assistance on Brown’s case. Stolarz recalled meeting Brown after the call.
“I knew he was innocent the moment that I met him,” Stolarz said. “How? It was like a lightning bolt right to my heart. Like when you meet your life partner for the first time or hold your child or grandchild for the first time, you feel a love and a truth way deep down. When I walked out that day when I went and saw him, I felt sick. I threw up next to the rental car on the way back to the airport because this was not Brooklyn. This was Texas, death row.”
During the event, Stolarz described the Clark and Jones murder case for which Brown was wrongfully convicted of inciting. Officer Charles R. Clark, 45, and Alfredia Jones, 25, were shot at Ace Cash Express, a check-cashing store in Houston, Texas. Police sought out three suspects, who were described by a truck driver who supposedly witnessed them exit the store.
Deshawn Gillespie testified against Brown and Elijah Joubert, who is still on death row for the convicted murder of Jones. Gillespie received a 30-year prison sentence. Brown’s trial took only three days, resulting in the wrongful conviction of murder and robbery.
“Guilt was forestalled from the very beginning. His lawyer didn’t do a great job for him. They didn’t have a public defender system. It was just lawyers who could be paid a fee to be court-appointed,” Stolarz said.
Brown had a solid alibi, which he had told his first appointed lawyer. He was at a girlfriend’s apartment the morning of the Clark and Jones murders, which is solidified by the evidence of his phone call to his girlfriend’s workplace.
“The simplest alibi ever heard, but the hardest to prove,” Stolarz said. “Three days, three-day trial. He didn’t testify in his own defense, and the defense put up no witnesses, not a single piece of evidence. The only time he spoke was during the sentencing in Houston. In Texas, the same jury to find you guilty or innocent decides if you live or die.”
Brown was found guilty, sentenced to death and sent to the police unit 60 miles north of Houston in Livingston, Texas. Stolarz described Brown’s conditions in the prison cell, which had a small slivered window and tight dimensions.
Stolarz also described the many deep-rooted problems with the state’s handling of Brown’s case. One such problem was rooted in the falsification of Brown’s IQ testing results. In the U.S., an individual is required to have an IQ at or above 70 to qualify for execution. During the time of Brown’s conviction, his IQ was 69.
“You got to have a certain level of intellectual functioning. But he didn’t. So they hired the state, hired Dr. George Jankowski. He’s a doctor who analyzed Dewayne and bumped up his IQ by 4, to over the 70 line, to be eligible for execution, saying that he was nervous, anxious and depressed at the time of testing,” Stolarz said.
Former prosecutor Daniel Rizzo, who had previously worked in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, led the prosecution of Brown. The evidence in question was found in a garage storage space by an investigating police officer.
After the discovery of this evidence, which included phone records confirming Brown’s alibi, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Brown’s death row conviction and ordered a new trial in November 2014. Brown was officially declared a free man in June of 2015 when the district court granted the State’s mission for dismissal.
“He was found actually innocent four years ago, which means that in the same court where he was sentenced to die, he was found actually innocent,” Stolarz said.
The panel concluded with a brief question session. One attendant asked Brown about how he was able to manage his lengthy time in prison.
“I gave myself a routine,” Brown said. “At 4 o’clock in the morning, they come around with breakfast. That was like the quietest time of the whole day. That’s when I’d eat my breakfast, sit down and meditate. By the time 7 o’clock comes, they start to pull people out of their cells; it’s starting to get loud. So after that, I’d probably start drawing. Around 12, I’d probably start practicing my reading cause I couldn’t read. Go to rec, come back and take a shower. I just had a routine that I did every day.”
Stolarz and Brown have maintained a strong friendship built over the course of Stolarz’s involvement in Brown’s case. After Brown’s release, the two decided to get matching tattoos featuring the scale of justice. Above Brown’s tattoo is the number “154,” which signifies his status as the 154th death row inmate on a national scale to be fully exonerated.
Brown has traveled across the nation since his release as a truck driver. His story is also documented in the Netflix show “The Innocence Files,” which Stolarz encouraged attendants to watch if they are interested in learning more about the case.