Katrina Evacuee's Conviction Overturned By Pro Bono Representation

Cory Talbot and Ben Machlis have spent the better part of the last seven years working to exonerate Herbert Landry who was sentenced to five years to life for arson. Mr. Landry was evacuated from Louisiana to Utah after hurricane Katrina. Just before leaving Utah to rejoin his family in Texas in 2006, his apartment building burned down and he was arrested. Prosecutors alleged he intentionally set the fire using an accelerant. After the Utah Court of Appeals determined last summer that his original trial and appellate counsel’s representation was legally deficient, Mr. Landry recently learned that his conviction, along with the order to pay almost $600,000 in restitution, has been vacated and the State of Utah won’t re-prosecute him.

Cory and Ben started working to overturn Mr. Landry’s conviction in 2010 when the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center asked Holland & Hart if the firm would represent Mr. Landry to pursue a claim under Utah’s Post-Conviction Remedies Act. Ben had been working with RMIC since he was a student at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. RMIC is a non-profit organization that works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions of innocent people. RMIC partners with students and cooperating attorneys after it investigates and determines a case warrants post-conviction relief.

Ben and Cory have resolutely pursued Mr. Landry’s case, attempting to persuade multiple courts that his conviction was based on ‘junk’ arson science that was not adequately investigated or tested at trial by Landry’s attorney. Despite several adverse rulings along the way, requiring multiple appeals, the team was thrilled last summer when the Utah Court of Appeals overturned Mr. Landry’s conviction on the basis that he was provided constitutionally deficient representation at trial and on his original appeal. In normal circumstances, Mr. Landry would now face a new trial. But the Court of Appeals commented, “it is far from clear that this would be a reasonable use of judicial resources,” and the Utah County Prosecutors Office agreed. Released on parole almost three years ago, Mr. Landry can now live his life in Texas free of the conviction and the obligation to pay for the damage caused by the fire.

For Ben, “Mr. Landry’s high spirits and steadfast belief made it easy to get behind his case.” Like other Holland & Hart attorneys who take on pro bono cases, Ben says, “I take my role as attorney seriously. I firmly believe I have an obligation to use my skills to serve the public interest.”

Hear Ben and RMIC’s Jenise Anderson discuss Landry’s case on KRCL’s RadioActive.


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