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Schnader Secures New Trial for Man on Death Row Almost 20 Years

04/25/2006

CONTACT: Caroline M. Brobeil
                     Public Relations Manager
                     Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP
                     215-751-2061
                    

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 25, 2006 – Philadelphia, PA – A team of Schnader attorneys, including leaders Samuel W. Silver and Bruce P. Merenstein, secured a significant victory last week when the Third Circuit vacated the conviction of a man who had once been sentenced to death, and ordered the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to release him or give him a new trial. In an opinion filed by the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals on April 18, 2006, the court found that Florencio Rolan – who was convicted of murder almost 22 years ago and spent 19 years on death row – received ineffective assistance of counsel at his original trial, and therefore his appeal for a new trial should be granted.

“We are very gratified that the court recognized that Mr. Rolan did not receive adequate representation when his case was originally tried, and that he will finally have an opportunity to have a fair and impartial trial,” said Samuel Silver, who is chair of Schnader’s Litigation Services Department and has led the Rolan team since Schnader took on the case more than a decade ago.

The Third Circuit’s decision was just the latest chapter in the case involving Florencio Rolan, who was accused of first-degree murder in 1983. The Schnader team has been handling Mr. Rolan’s appeal from his murder conviction since 1994, when he was days away from being the first individual to be executed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in more than 30 years. In the 11 years since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay order that saved Mr. Rolan from execution, dozens of Schnader lawyers and staff have worked tirelessly on his state and federal appeals, successfully demonstrating the invalidity first of his death sentence and then of his underlying conviction.

In 1997, Schnader succeeded in getting Mr. Rolan’s death sentence vacated and a new sentencing trial ordered by a state court, which determined that Mr. Rolan’s original trial counsel was ineffective in defending Mr. Rolan at the penalty phase of his 1984 trial. In 2003, the second sentencing took place in Philadelphia, with a Schnader team led by Silver defending Mr. Rolan. The jury in that case, which heard from Mr. Rolan and many other witnesses not called at the original trial, unanimously found that Mr. Rolan should not be sentenced to death. The jury’s unanimous decision ensures that, if there is a new trial, Mr. Rolan cannot be sentenced to death for the 1983 shooting. Nine months after the life sentence was imposed, Mr. Rolan was finally moved from death row, almost 20 years after his death sentence was first imposed.

Having ensured that Mr. Rolan would not be executed, Schnader then pressed a habeas corpus petition in federal court to seek a new, fair trial for Mr. Rolan. A central claim in the habeas corpus petition was that Mr. Rolan’s trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and call two witnesses identified by Mr. Rolan – Daniel Vargas and Robert Aponte – who would have corroborated his claim of self-defense in the killing of Paulino Santiago. Mr. Rolan’s trial counsel did nothing to follow up on his client’s request, failing to contact, interview or call Mr. Vargas or Mr. Aponte as witnesses,<