EJI honored John Paul Stevens, retired Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, with its Champion of Justice Award at EJI’s annual benefit dinner on May 2, 2011. The third annual award event also celebrated the release of two EJI clients who had been sentenced to life without parole and served nearly 50 years in prison, and featured a performance by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
The third-longest serving justice in the Court’s history, Justice Stevens retired on June 28, 2010, at the age of 90. He was honored Monday night for his tireless commitment to the constitutional rights of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
In accepting EJI’s Champion of Justice Award, Justice Stevens addressed the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Connick v. Thompson, in which it held that Louisiana prosecutors who failed to turn over exculpatory evidence could not be held liable for damages where their admitted misconduct caused John Thompson to spend 14 years on death row — and to nearly be executed on several occasions — for a crime he did not commit.
Justice Stevens urged discussion about the need for reform of a system that creates incentives for elected prosecutors to disregard the constitutional rights of defendants in order to appear tough on crime.
EJI also celebrated the release of two clients who had been sentenced to die in prison for nonhomicide offenses and served nearly 50 years in one of the nation’s most violent prisons.
Both men, who achieved impressive records and earned great respect and admiration from fellow prisoners and prison staff for their accomplishments in prison despite having no hope of release, expressed gratitude for the loving support of their families and friends, who joined them at the event in New York City.