Liberty alumnus gets man off of death row
Mississippi man released on time served with the help of local lawyer
The motto of Liberty University is “training champions for Christ,” champions in each and every secular field. Some Liberty alumni have now gone on to be teachers, some are nurses. One of them just helped a man go from death row to living a free life with his family.
Abram Pafford, 38, a lawyer at Pafford Lawrence & Ross PLLC, was the lead lawyer for the case of Cory Jermine Maye, who was sentenced to the death penalty in 2001, but, less than three months ago, left a penitentiary in Mississippi a free man.
Pafford, who graduated from Liberty in 1996 and then attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. until 1999, has gone on to work in the legal field at a variety of different institutions and companies, including Fried Frank LLP and Covington & Burling LLP in D.C. In the fall of 2010, after Pafford had left Covington & Burling, he, along with Bill Lawrence and John Ross, also Liberty alumni and former members of the Liberty Debate Team, started their own law practice. According to Pafford, it was at this firm that he heard the final results of Cory Maye’s case.
“Where we ended up compared to where we started is just extraordinarily rare,” Pafford said. “The odds are always against any defendant appealing a conviction.”
According to Pafford, he first got introduced to the Maye case in 2005 after reading an article about it by Jonathan Adler on the National Review website. The article also had a link to a blog by Radley Balko, currently a full-time reporter for the Huffington Post, who indicated that something did not seem right with the Maye case, especially considering that Maye had no prior criminal or arrest record.
Maye was on death row after being convicted of allegedly murdering a police officer, Ron Jones Jr., who was part of a drug raid on Maye’s duplex the night of Dec. 26, 2001, according to the Opinion issued by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Maye’s apartment was on the left side of the duplex, and an individual named Jamie Smith occupied the right side, according to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
An article on Reason.com by Balko stated that Maye fired his gun into the darkness three times, unaware that those who had entered his apartment were police officers.
“Thought someone was trying to break in on me and my child,” Maye is quoted to have testified in the article by Balko. Maye was referring to his then 14-month-old daughter, Tacorriana, asleep in the other room.
Pafford said he was horrified after reading the courts transcripts because it was pretty obvious that the results of the first trial had not been just. It also struck an emotional chord with him.
“My oldest daughter, at the time in 2005, was about the same age as Cory’s daughter on the night of the shooting which was back in 2001,” Pafford said. “I was sort of thinking what it would be like for me if I had been in that situation and had to make a split-second choice. And if something goes wrong like that and you end up on death row.”
The process that followed subsequent to Pafford’s involvement would take five years of thorough and hard work. After requesting and receiving a change of venue in 2006, and undergoing a sort of “mini trial” in September, Maye’s death penalty sentence was set aside and he was resentenced to life in prison without parole by the court in Marion County in December, according to Pafford. After that, the case went up to the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2007.
Pafford argued the case in June of 2009 in front of the Court of Appeals and they received a decision in November of 2009, in which the Court of Appeals reversed Maye’s conviction and ordered a new trial. In early 2010, the state appealed that to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which led to about a year of briefing in front of the Mississippi Supreme Court. In late 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued a decision that confirmed the one made by the Court of Appeals, as well as the reversal of Maye’s conviction.
“The Court of Appeals reversed Maye’s conviction and sentence and remanded for a new trial, finding that the trial court had violated Maye’s fundamental constitutional right to trial in Jefferson Davis County, the county where the offense had occurred,” states the Opinion by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
A new trial was set for roughly September 2011, but Maye pled guilty to a much lower charge with the understanding that, as part of the agreement, he would be charged with time served.
Pafford said that what was accomplished is rare without DNA evidence and many probably would have said that what he and the legal team set out to do in 2006 was impossible.
“It’s very, very rare to have a capital murder conviction that gets reversed and the person’s released from prison in a situation that doesn’t involve DNA evidence,” Pafford said. “Cory admitted to shooting the officer. There was really, in that sense, no dispute about how the officer had died. It was a question of…getting the court to see the facts through different eyes and through the right legal eyes.”
That is exactly what the goal was as Pafford and the team formulated their strategy, working with a lot of time and effort going carefully through the physical evidence and testimonies.
“All of it was sort of geared to highlight to the court what had kind of gotten lost in the first trial, which is that really, it would have been impossible, literally impossible, for Cory to have seen the police prior to them kicking in the … door to the house,” Pafford said.
According to the main appeal brief that Pafford presented before the Mississippi Court of Appeals, Maye was nothing more than “a homeowner confronted with forcible entry by a dark-clothed intruder late at night,” who acted out of self-defense and did not have sufficient evidence against him to suggest that he knowingly murdered a police officer.
“One of the things that I like about being a lawyer, particularly doing criminal defense work, is that there’s not necessarily a lot of jobs you can have where a lot of your work involves people calling you up or people coming to you on what is literally the worst day of their life or the worst moment in their life and saying, ‘help me,’” Pafford said. “So to get someone in that situation and take them to the point where they’re free and reunited with their family and getting to enjoy all the things that most of us take for granted every day is a real feeling of accomplishment.”