Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Freed from Death Row: Catholic Charities Staff Hear an Amazing Story on Retreat

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Every year, Catholic Charities employees are treated to a day of rest, reflection, and fellowship at our Spirituality Retreat. For our 2016 retreat on June 16, hundreds of staff witnessed an incredible keynote speech by Brian Stolarz and Alfred Dewayne Brown.

Stolarz, a partner at LeClairRyan law firm here in Washington, DC, has worked with Catholic Charities for well over ten years, always donating his time and talent as a pro bono volunteer assisting with civil legal matters through our Catholic Charities Legal Network (he estimates that he's probably spent north of 500 hours volunteering with us). His love to serve others grew out of his Catholic faith and an early career stop as a public defender in New York.

This same passion for service and faith led him to accept the biggest case of his career as a pro bono attorney– helping get an innocent man off of death row in Texas. The case was referred to Brian's law firm at the time by Texas Defender Service. 

Brian Stolarz shows the key piece of evidence he found that
proved Dewayne Brown's innocence. 
Seated in the front row of the packed auditorium was the man who he first met in a Texas prison with bullet proof glass between them: Dewayne Brown. That was in March 2007. The case would consume much of Stolarz’s heart and attention for the next eight years as he tracked down witnesses from Brown’s trial, sought out records from the district attorney’s office and more. Brown, meanwhile, would patiently continue to live in solitary confinement in jail, spending 23 hours each day in his cell. From the beginning, Brown had always maintained his innocence in the death of a Texas police officer.

Stolarz took the stage at our retreat and shared their story over the course of nearly two hours to a roomful of Catholic Charities employees who dedicate their careers to helping others. Together, the room laughed, sat in silent shock at the injustice of Dewayne’s story, and shed tears at the grace of a man getting a second chance at life after being in jail for more than a decade.
(left to right) Brian Stolarz, Msgr. John Enzler, Dewayne Brown pose after
Brian and Dewayne shared their story.

You can read the full story, as told to the Washington Post,here.

Brian and Dewayne today are as close as brothers. Their case has led to changes in the law and the process for selected grand juries in Texas (this was a key part of the way that Dewayne was sentenced). After they finished taking questions, Brian and Dewayne greeted staff and posed for pictures or answered more questions about their amazing story.

And after that, as planned, the two left to spend an evening together at the movies, cherishing Dewayne’s freedom. 

Finally, if the story inspires you or you want to dig into the nitty gritty details of the harrowing way an innocent man ended up on death row, you can preorder the book here sharing their story (if you have Amazon Smile, set it to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington).