Three former capital/public defenders (two attorneys and an investigator) were hired as part of Attorney General Mark Herring’s efforts to expand his new Conviction Integrity Unit.
In January, Herring created the unit to identify and overturn wrongful convictions in Virginia. A distinct entity, the unit has as a singular focus the task of evaluating and investigating claims of wrongful conviction, taking proactive steps to overturn wrongful convictions, and implementing important changes in the law that will finally allow for more wrongly convicted people to pursue their claims in the courts.
“A wrongful conviction denies someone not only their freedom but indefinable opportunities and the ability to choose their own path in life – it is a wrong that can never be fully righted, but we must try,” Herring said. “These new members of my team bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Conviction Integrity Unit that will ensure any potential wrongful conviction cases get the attention and consideration they truly deserve. As a Commonwealth, we must always strive for justice and truth, but when the system fails or gets it wrong, we have an obligation to right that wrong and give someone a second chance.”
Herring hired two attorneys and an investigator to join the unit.
Emilee Hasbrouck was hired as an attorney in the new unit. Before that, she spent 11-years in Virginia’s public defender system, including serving as a supervising attorney in the Richmond Public Defender’s Office and as an Assistant Capital Defender in the Capital Defender’s Office for Central Virginia for the past two years. She is a graduate of the College of Charleston and the University of Richmond School of Law.
Kyle Richardson was hired as an investigator, after having served 12-years as an investigator with the Office of Capital Defender for Central Virginia. Recently, he served as lead defense investigator on a capital murder prosecution resulting in dismissal of all charges at trial. Richardson is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
Seth Shelley was hired as an attorney. He previously spent 13-years in Virginia’s public defender system, including service as a supervising attorney in the Richmond Public Defender’s Office and as an Assistant and Deputy Capital Defender in the Capital Defender’s Office for Central Virginia for the past seven years. Shelley is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.
The unit’s work has grown in light of important changes to Virginia’s laws around wrongful convictions and the issuance of “writs of actual innocence,” which are orders issued by either the Court of Appeals of Virginia or the Virginia Supreme Court after the court finds that an individual did not actually commit the crime for which they were convicted and that they are actually innocent, according to Herring.
The addition of an in-house investigator is a major development that will expand the unit’s ability to follow the facts and independently determine whether a person has been wrongly convicted. Instead of relying on law enforcement agencies who may have been involved in the original investigation, the Unit will now be able to conduct more independent investigations that help get to the truth of someone’s guilt or innocence, he added.
Under legislation that the Office of Attorney General worked on in the last legislative session with chief patron House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring, the General Assembly expanded the opportunities for wrongfully convicted individuals to pursue their claims, and eliminated many of the unnecessary procedural requirements that too often kept individuals from having their case heard on the merits.