DLA Piper's Peter Zeidenberg was up against a wall when the firm took on representing a doctor named Ronald McIver, sentenced to 30 years for a man's death that prosecutors alleged was tied to a prescription drug that McIver had prescribed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in 2006 affirmed the sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, which was filed in 2004 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
In March 2008, Zeidenberg, a white collar criminal defense partner in the firm’s Washington office, got involved pro bono and soon filed a motion to vacate McIver's sentence based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
On May 28, that effort paid off. A federal district judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of McIver—vacating the two counts that brought the 30-year prison term.
Federal prosecutors today asked Judge Henry Floyd to stay implementing the order, saying that the government has 60 days to decide whether to challenge the ruling in a federal appellate court. An assistant U.S. attorney, Jimmie Ewing in Columbia, said prosecutors are consulting with the appellate section of the Justice Department to determine whether to appeal.
McIver was sentenced to 30 years for the two counts that involved the death of Larry Shealy in May 2003. McIver received a 20-year sentence for other drug charges. Floyd did not vacate the conviction and sentence for those counts. The judge's ruling is here.
Zeidenberg, the lead post-conviction attorney for McIver, said in an interview that McIver’s trial counsel didn’t adequately explore the causes of Shealy's death, which prosecutors said was a result of McIver’s illegal dispensing of drugs. The defense former attorney, Zeidenberg said, didn’t consult with toxicologists and pathologists.
The DLA Piper team’s investigation, through experts, revealed that Shealy likely died of heart disease and that the post-death redistribution of blood in the man’s body likely distorted the toxicology results. Zeidenberg called the hefty prison sentence a miscarriage of justice. “We felt so clearly we were right,” said Zeidenberg, who called Floyd’s ruling “thrilling.”
Floyd ordered the parties consult and submit a proposed scheduling order as to any possible hearings.