Husch Blackwell Partner Lincoln J. Knauer received the Legal Champions award from Missouri Lawyers Weekly on Friday, January 27. Knauer was honored for his pro bono representation of Clayton Price, whose conviction for statutory sodomy was vacated by Judge J. Edward Sweeney, 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, on October 27, 2011. Price remains in the Eastern R&D Correctional Center, near Bonne Terre, Missouri, awaiting the outcome of the state’s retrial of the case.
“This wonderful victory is the result of almost 2,000 hours of time, talent and expertise from Link and his team,” said Jenny Schwendemann, Husch Blackwell’s Director of Risk Management and Pro Bono Services. “Link and the firm believe in Clayton’s innocence and are determined to make him a free man. Link’s devotion to seeing an injustice made right is the essence of pro bono work, and it testifies to Link’s integrity and deep-seated commitment to the profession.”
In 2004, Clayton Price was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Taney County, Missouri, judge for sodomizing Price's fiancée's daughter. In early 2008, the Midwest Innocence Project identified the case as one worthy of review. Led by Knauer, a team of Husch Blackwell attorneys argued that Price's hired trial counsel performed inadequately. The verdict director used in his trial permitted conviction by a non-unanimous jury. The state destroyed videotapes of the alleged victim's physical exams before trial counsel or Price's consulting physician could review the tapes.
Price's post-conviction counsel missed the deadline to file for post-conviction relief under Missouri Rule 29.15, which would have allowed a review of constitutional issues and the effectiveness of trial counsel. Although deadlines have previously been strictly construed by Missouri courts, Knauer was successful in securing a rare ruling that counsel "abandoned" Price by missing the Rule 29.15 deadline. A hearing was held in early March 2011.
Judge Sweeney took the case under advisement following the March 2011 trial and reviewed about 4,000 pages of depositions, transcripts and briefing before issuing his 51-page ruling, which laid out a chronology of errors that led to Price’s wrongful conviction.