The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) is using a sizable grant from Venable LLP to establish an endowment that will help exonerees from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia get back on their feet after release from prison.
The endowment, named the Venable-Burner Exoneree Support Fund, will provide social services, behavioral health counseling, job placement assistance, and advocacy training.
The fund is named for Venable and its client, Troy Burner, who spent more than 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Tried as an aider and abettor in a fatal 1990 shooting in Washington, Burner was convicted on paper-thin evidence, namely the ever-changing story of a cooperating witness who, hoping for leniency in his own murder case, falsely testified to Burner’s presence at the crime scene. Working alongside MAIP co-counsel, Venable attorneys Seth Rosenthal and Lauren Stocks-Smith helped secure Burner’s release in November 2018 and then his full exoneration in March 2020.
Earlier this year, Burner received $5 million from the government of the District of Columbia to compensate him for his unjust incarceration. Venable will donate at least $500,000 in attorneys’ fees from Burner’s case to establish the Support Fund.
As an endowment, the support fund will invest the contribution from Venable, rather than draw all of it down, and operate off of the investment income. The income will principally be used to hire a social worker to help exonerees adjust to life outside of prison. It will also be used to teach advocacy skills.
Some exonerees, including Burner, have become effective spokespeople for reform of the criminal legal system. The Support Fund will help others who wish to follow suit.