A man who spent nearly 40 years in prison, and who came within two days of sitting in Virginia’s electric chair, was released today. Joseph M. Giarratano, who in 1979 was convicted of two Norfolk murders, will spend the holidays with friends and supporters after he was granted parole this past November.
Stephen Northup, a retired partner at Troutman Sanders who represented Giarratano pro bono before the parole board, was at Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron, Virginia today to pick up Giarratano. “I believe Joe is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, and his release poses no risk to public safety. He has spent nearly 40 years in prison, compiled a remarkable record in that time, and dedicated himself to the law,” Northup said.
In 1979, Giarratano confessed to killing his two roommates, but later said he assumed he had been guilty after waking up and finding their bodies. His multiple confessions conflicted with each other and with the crime scene, and no forensic evidence linked him to the crime. Giarratano’s attempts to win his freedom garnered national and international attention as supporters raised questions of doubt about his guilt.
While in prison, Giarratano was published in The Yale Law Journal and helped another death row inmate win exoneration by advocating for his innocence and connecting him with legal representation. He plans to continue helping other inmates and already has a paralegal position lined up, where he hopes to work on Innocence Project cases.
Giarratano’s release highlights the importance of pro bono representation, which the American Bar Association reports has increased over the years. Its most recent survey indicates that attorneys are averaging over 56 hours per year of free legal services to those with limited means.
“Pro bono representation is a professional responsibility,” said Rori Cassirer, a business litigation partner at Troutman Sanders who chairs the firm’s Pro Bono Committee. “As a firm, we remain committed to providing legal aid to people and organizations who need it the most, ensuring justice is fair and accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay.”
Each year, Troutman Sanders’ attorneys dedicate thousands of pro bono hours in support of non-profits, military veterans, children, the wrongfully accused, and so many more. Last month, the firm was recognized with a pro bono award from the State Bar of Georgia after being nominated by the Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta.