For Kent Gipson and Taylor Rickard, the path to helping an innocent man go free can be frustrating, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.
“The issue that we won on had to do with the non-disclosure of a fingerprint report,” Rickard said. “It says that there was a fingerprint lifted from the crime scene, which, after testing, we discovered belonged to neither [our client] nor the victim. That was significant because the victim was by himself.”
That discovery ultimately led to the release last year of Jonathan Irons, who had been behind bars for more than two decades for assault, armed criminal action and burglary in connection with a shooting he didn’t commit. The case, which gained initial notoriety because of advocacy from WNBA star Maya Moore, eventually led to clearing Irons’ name. Moore and Irons later married after his release from prison last July.
“It is always a good feeling when something like that happens because it is all too rare an occurrence,” said Gipson, who in recent years has helped to free a number of people who were wrongly jailed. “It is really hard to get a wrongly convicted guy out of prison.”
Gipson, a native of Crane, Missouri, said the legal system is stacked against innocent people who have been incarcerated. That’s what made a case like the Irons matter so rewarding: Their client was serving a 50-year sentence.
“If the courts treated ordinary litigants or business litigants the same way, there’d be outcries from all over the place,” he said. “It is hard to imagine what it is like to lose the prime years of your life in prison for something you didn’t do. It is hard to even fathom.”
Rickard, a 2017 graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, said she’s always wanted to be an attorney, and she’s found criminal appeals work fascinating.
“I sort of fell into it. I took a class when I was in law school about wrongful convictions,” she said. “It really interested me, and I actually saw a posting when I was a 2L for an internship with this office.”
She got the position.
“It wasn’t necessarily the practice area I had on my radar when I started law school, but I realized it was the most interesting and something I was passionate about,” said the native St. Louisan.
Gipson feels the same passion.
“I’ve always wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, so when I got out of law school, the only thing I applied for was public defender jobs,” he recalled.
Gipson took on Irons’ case after representing him previously in a different appeal.
“He reached out to me again two or three years ago to get involved in his case,” he said. “The case was sort of stalled a little bit, and he was impatient and wanted somebody to get him into court. That’s where we came in.”
Rickard said she believed there was clearly a strong claim when she reviewed the matter and spoke to other attorneys who’d worked on the case.
“We talked to them and got a little bit of background information,” she said. “We talked to an investigator who’d done some work. I definitely knew there was something to it.”
Doing post-conviction litigation means getting used to not winning as much as you might wish because appeals are generally an uphill battle, she said.
“It is much easier to get somebody convicted wrongfully than it is to undo that conviction, so it is important in the early phases to have a good defense attorney,” she said.