Dead man’s family wants his name cleared through trial
A convicted killer who committed suicide four days after he was sentenced to life in prison is appealing his case from the grave — at taxpayers’ expense.
Christopher Harrison Devlin, a 57-year-old long-haul truck driver, was convicted a year ago of killing a man who had been set to testify against him in an assault trial, and was sentenced to life in prison. Devlin’s attorneys immediately appealed his conviction.
But on Sept. 20, 2010, Devlin was found dead of an overdose in his Spokane County Jail cell.
Despite his death, Devlin’s attorneys and his sister, who had herself appointed trustee of his estate, are moving ahead with the appeal in hopes of clearing his name. They also insist the state should pay for it because Devlin was broke when he died.
“She believed he was innocent and unless she continued his appeal, his innocence wouldn’t be established,” said Robert Lamp, a Spokane probate attorney who represents Leslee Devlin, of New York City. Leslee Devlin could not be reached for comment.
For nearly a century, under a common law known as abatement ab initio, convictions like Devlin’s were automatically dismissed in Washington and most other states if the defendant died before sentencing or before exhausting all of his appeals. In 2006, for example, a federal judge in Texas tossed out former Enron chief Kenneth Lay’s convictions for conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud because he died before sentencing.
But Gregory Link, an attorney for Devlin, contends that a recent decision by the state Supreme Court, which overruled abatement ab initio in a Seattle case, should clear the way for the appeal to move forward. And since Devlin’s estate is insolvent, Link said, the appeal should be funded by the state.
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