Clifford Chance death row appeal flounders

The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Clifford Chance on behalf of America’s longest-serving death row inmate, Jack Alderman.

The firm had argued that Alderman, convicted in 1974 for the murder of his wife, was the victim of ineffective counselling in his original trial. Alderman has consistently maintained his innocence.

Clifford Chance partner Jeremy Sandelson, who was instrumental in the firm’s involvement, said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision but remained hopeful other avenues were still open.

“We are now down to the last two heads,” said Sandelson. “We will continue with the lethal injection challenge and put evidence before the Supreme Court as to why it is a breach of the eighth amendment. In the meantime, Clifford Chance will continue to work very hard on the issue of a new trial.”

On Monday (1 October) the Supreme Court rejected the argument, clearing the way for the Superior Court of Chatham County, where Alderman was originally convicted, to issue a warrant for his execution.

The case comes at a time of huge controversy across the US in relation to the death penalty. On Tuesday (25 September) the Supreme Court unexpectedly agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution on the grounds that it may contravene the eighth amendment of the US constitution.

The eighth amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment”. Two weeks ago a federal judge in Tennessee ruled that lethal injection presented, “a substantial risk of unnecessary pain” and could “result in a terrifying, excruciating death”.

Any delay in the Alderman case would give Clifford Chance additional time to pursue another course of action, namely seeking a retrial on the basis of new evidence it argues it has uncovered.