US Supreme Court

Represented by Top BigLaw Counsel, Inmate Facing Death Sentence Hopes to Be Allowed to Appeal

When Cory R. Maples heard that he was going to be represented in his murder appeal by lawyers from one of New York’s most prestigious law firms, “I thought I hit the lottery as far as attorneys go,” he told the Washington Post.

But his case didn’t go nearly as well as he might reasonably have expected it to.

In a perfect storm of mistakes that weren’t his fault, Maples, 37, wound up missing a critical appeal date for his state-court habeas claims. No one told him that his attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell assigned to his case had moved on to other jobs and, when an order showing that his initial appeal had been rejected arrived at the law firm from the court, the mailroom returned it to sender. Nor did the state notify him that the clock was ticking on his opportunity to pursue further appeals.

A frantic phone call from Maples’ mother, once he eventually learned he had missed the deadline, alerted Sullivan & Cromwell and the law firm tried to get the case back on track.

He is now being represented by partner Gregory S. Garre of Latham & Watkins, global head of the firm’s appellate practice and a former U.S. solictor general.

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court is to hear arguments about whether ordinarily ironclad appellate deadlines should be waived to allow Maples to make his case that he was not adequately represented by counsel at trial. He says his lawyers, who were paid $1,000, didn’t present his defense well, perhaps due to their inexperience, and didn’t bring up with the jury mitigating evidence about his drug and alcohol use.

Among other arguments, Garre is telling the nation’s top court that denying Maples the right to pursue his habeas appeal, under these circumstances, would give him less due process than would be accorded to the owner of real estate headed toward a tax sale.

“I fully realize that under this sentence of death, there’s a 98 percent chance they’re going to kill me,” Maples told the Post. “But I would feel a lot better about it if I actually had a chance to go down fighting. Just to be heard.”

Earlier coverage:

ABA Journal: “Lawyers on the Docket: Court Term Kicks Off with a Look at Legal Representation” “Supreme Court to Decide if Sullivan & Cromwell’s Mailroom Mix-Up Bars Capital Appeal”

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