In partnership with the Buried Alive Project, a national nonprofit launched to help free prisoners sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses, Jackson Walker attorneys Edwin Buffmire, Shelisa Brock, and Lauren Ceckowski sought a reduction in the life sentence of Robert Dale Gray, who received a mandatory life sentence without parole in 1997 for a third felony drug conviction.
The team, along with local counsel Shook Hardy LLP, sought compassionate release for Mr. Gray under the First Step Act, which in part sought to reform drug sentencing laws that previously imposed mandatory life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. The Jackson Walker team won a reduction in Mr. Gray’s sentence, securing his immediate release from prison after he served more than 25 years for selling less than two grams of methamphetamine in the 1990s.
In an order issued on September 8, 2021, Judge Douglas Harpool of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri found that “the circumstances of Gray’s mandatory life sentence—in particular, the change in law that would not have required Gray to serve a mandatory life sentence if he were sentenced today—combined with his age and medical concerns constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons to reduce Gray’s life sentence.” Judge Harpool ordered that his life sentence be reduced to time served with 10 years of supervised release, and Mr. Gray was released from prison on September 29, 2021.
Now 69 years old, Mr. Gray has met the grandchildren he had never seen before.
The win marks another example of Jackson Walker securing results for its clients, from the Fortune 100 and its executive suites to those less fortunate in our communities. Thousands of compassionate release motions are brought in federal courts throughout the country, but more than 80% are denied, nearly 90% are denied in the Western District of Missouri, and only a small fraction of those ever reduce life sentences.
“We are extremely happy for Mr. Gray and his family, all of whom demonstrated years of perseverance, in the face of small odds of ever seeing freedom again,” said Edwin Buffmire, Dallas partner and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee. “We are proud to partner with initiatives like the Buried Alive Project, which help individuals like Mr. Gray achieve a second chance at life outside of prison bars.”
“We are proud to partner with initiatives like the Buried Alive Project, which help individuals like Mr. Gray achieve a second chance at life outside of prison bars.”
To learn more about the Firm’s efforts to help ensure equal access to justice, visit our Pro Bono page.