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January 5, 2007
Firm Wins High-Profile Pro Bono Habeas Case

Martin Klotz

After serving 15 years in prison for murder despite having a credible alibi, Willkie client Jose Garcia has been ordered freed in 60 days unless the state elects to retry him within that time.  In Garcia v. Portuondo, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Willkie’s request for a writ of habeas corpus.  Calling this an “exceptionally troubling case,” Judge Kaplan said that Mr. Garcia was convicted because his original representation “was well below minimal standards of competence.”   Willkie lawyers took on Mr. Garcia’s case as a pro bono matter.  The judge agreed with Willkie that the 1993 trial, which rested on the testimony of one witness who claimed to have seen the shooting, was completely botched.  The judge credited Mr. Garcia with a strong alibi, including documentation that would prove he was out of the country at the time of the murder in question.   He said that the jury “heard almost nothing of this alibi.”  Judge Kaplan said it was “highly doubtful” that prosecutors could win a new trial should the Bronx District Attorney choose to retry Mr. Garcia.  Judge Kaplan also said that Willkie’s pro bono effort, which was handled by partners Martin Klotz and associates Matthew Bosher and Stephen Vogel, “was in the highest tradition of the Bar.”