On March 31, 2009, EJI honored Kenneth Frazier, Executive Vice President and President, Global Human Health, Merck & Co., Inc., and Randy Hertz, New York University School of Law Professor and Director of Clinical and Advocacy Programs with its Equal Justice Champion award. The event celebrated the release from Alabama’s death row of James “Bo” Cochran and of Phillip Shaw, who was released from prison in Missouri after having been sentenced to die in prison for an offense when he was just fourteen years old.
Kenneth Frazier led the team of volunteer lawyers who secured James “Bo” Cochran’s release from death row in Alabama. In 1976, Mr. Cochran, who is African American, was wrongly accused of killing a white man in Birmingham, Alabama. Despite the weakness of the State’s evidence, a jury of eleven whites and one African American convicted Mr. Cochran and he was sentenced to death.
Mr. Cochran spent 19 years on death row before his conviction was overturned after federal courts found his jury had been illegally selected in a racially biased manner. On re-trial, he was acquitted. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Ken Frazier and his team, Mr. Cochran was released from prison in 1997.
Mr. Frazier’s work confronting injustice and inequality as a passionate advocate and leader in the legal community stands out as an example of the critical role volunteer lawyers can play in defending poor people convicted of crimes in Alabama, which provides no legal assistance to people like Bo Cochran.
Randy Hertz, a Professor of Clinical Law and Director of the Clinical and Advocacy Programs at NYU School of Law, is one of the most admired and influential law teachers in the country. For over 20 years, he has taught and inspired scores of public defenders, civil rights advocates, juvenile defenders, and lawyers now working in public service organizations across the country. Professor Hertz is a leading scholar in federal habeas corpus procedure and has been honored for his advocacy in the juvenile justice field.
Professor Hertz has been critical to the success of EJI’s work by serving on our board. One such success is the recent victory in the case of Phillip Shaw, who was sentenced to die in prison for an offense that occurred when he was just fourteen years only. EJI identified Phillip as one of our 73 children nationwide to be serving a sentence of permanent imprisonment for an offense at 13 or 14, and agreed to represent Phillip. He is the first of our young clients to win his freedom. After having spent nearly half his life in prison, Phillip was released in November 2008.
EJI celebrates the commitment to justice of Ken Frazier and Randy Hertz, and the freedom of Bo Cochran and Phillip Shaw.