Press Release

Cooley Secures Rulings Granting Compassionate Release to Pro Bono Client, Overturning Second-Degree Murder Conviction

August 1, 2023

Washington, DC – August 1, 2023 – Cooley recently secured two significant rulings on behalf of pro bono client Nakia Roy before the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. After serving nearly 23 years in prison, Roy was granted compassionate release, and his second-degree murder conviction was overturned. Partners Kathleen Hartnett and Daniel Grooms led the Cooley team.

In 2001, Roy was convicted of multiple charges in the DC Superior Court, including second-degree murder while armed. He was sentenced to 25 years plus 180 days to life. This was effectively a life sentence, as he could only be released if the US Parole Commission granted him parole – a rarity.

In Roy’s direct appeal to the DC Court of Appeals nearly 20 years ago, Hartnett argued that the jury instruction for second-degree murder was fundamentally flawed. She also argued that Roy was improperly tried with a co-defendant, and that his indictment was improperly amended. The DC Court of Appeals rejected that appeal in 2005 by a 2 – 1 vote.

Fifteen years later, in January 2020, the DC Court of Appeals repudiated the second-degree murder instruction used in Roy’s case in an en banc decision in Fleming v. US. The Cooley team filed a habeas petition shortly after Fleming issued, arguing that in light of Fleming, Roy was entitled to a judgment of acquittal – or, at a minimum, a new trial for second-degree murder. Superior Court Judge Danya Dayson granted Roy’s motion on July 19, 2023, vacating his second-degree murder conviction and ordering a new trial.

Meanwhile, Roy filed a compassionate release motion in 2022 under DC’s newly enacted compassionate release law. The Cooley team briefed that motion and presented expert testimony and other evidence to the court showing Roy’s entitlement to compassionate release. Judge Dayson granted the compassionate release motion on May 23, and Roy was released from custody on May 26, 2023. He is now reunited with his family in the Washington, DC, area.

Read the compassionate release order

Read the habeas order

The case is United States v. Nakia Roy (2000 FEL 3591) in the DC Superior Court.

These victories earned the Cooley team a Litigator of the Week accolade on The American Lawyer’s Litigation Daily Litigator of the Week Runners-Up and Shout Outs list. The Cooley team’s efforts also were featured in The American Lawyer’s Litigation Daily and Reuters.

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