PCJP Students Triumph

USC Gould School of Law • September 20, 2015
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To learn more about USC Gould's PCJP, click here to watch the video.

Students -- and a recent graduate -- successfully argue on behalf of longtime client

-By Gilien Silsby


Just four weeks into the academic year, USC Gould’s Post-Conviction Justice Project is  celebrating  several significant victories. Students -- and a recent graduate -- successfully argued for a sentence reduction and parole grants for four deserving clients.

Here is a snapshot of the recent triumphs:

-Laura Donaldson ‘15, the winner of the Mason Brown award, successfully argued before a Sacramento County Superior Court to reduce a life without parole sentence for Ellis Curtis, a youth offender client. At age 17, Curtis was convicted of felony murder, following a childhood of severe neglect and abuse.  

The two-day sentencing hearing included testimony from Curtis as well as several lay witnesses and an expert.  

“Laura’s work with Mr. Curtis for the past two and a half years made all the difference in our presentation to the Court.  His three hours on the stand were the highlight of the proceeding,” Rummel said.  


Curtis testified openly about his childhood abuse and illiteracy, extensive gang involvement, and tremendous work toward rehabilitation.  He concluded his testimony by reading a poem and a letter of remorse to the victim’s son.  

Judge Steve White — a former District Attorney for Sacramento County and Solicitor General of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation— remarked that the evidence was well presented and argued.

“It was a great day for justice – a strong and deserving client, an excellent student, powerful witness testimony, and a fair and thoughtful judge.” Rummel said.

Despite graduating from USC Gould in June, Donaldson volunteered to finish the case before starting her job at WilmerHale in October.

-In another PCJP victory, Alexander Kirkpatrick ’17 successfully won a grant of parole for Kevin Gentry, a client serving an adult life sentence for a murder he committed as a juvenile.  Despite Governor Brown’s decision to reverse his prior grant of parole, Kirkpatrick used recently passed legislation (SB260) to convince a panel of parole commissioners to grant parole.

“It is exciting for the students to see how legislation that PCJP co-sponsored can directly impact outcomes for our clients,” Rummel said.

-Sujata Awasthi ’17 won a grant of parole for longtime client Doris Menjivar — a woman who shot and killed a man

while acting at the behest of her abusive partner to collect a drug debt.  The Board has repeatedly denied her parole for many years.

“Sujata worked closely with Ms. Menjivar to explain her crime and demonstrate her rehabilitation, and Sujata fought vigorously at the hearing to win her freedom,” Rummel said.

Working in the PCJP and helping Menjivar was a highpoint of her law school career, said Awasthi. "It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Doris is a model of rehabilitation, and a kind, resilient and deserving person. I'm honored to be part of this Project," she said. 

- A team of dedicated PCJP students worked on case of Marvin Mutch, who has maintained his innocence for a crime a man who has served more than 40 years for a crime he did not commit, resulting in the parole board finally finding him suitable for release and granting parole. “Our success in convincing the parole board to grant parole must be tempered by the injustice of a man who has served forty years for a crime he did not commit,” said Rummel.

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