An attorney fresh out of law school was able to help clear an innocent Black man's name after he spent 32 years in prison.
According to NBC News, Thomas Raynard James spent decades behind bars after he was sentenced to life for a murder he did not commit. After years of proclaiming his innocence, James was able to escape his sentence with help from Black attorney Natalie Figgers, who was only two years removed from law school.
Figgers first got involved in the case after she was approached by James' friends as they were raising money for his defense in 2020.
Despite being a business and personal injury attorney fresh out of school, Figgers took on the criminal case outside of her specialty to help relieve James of hefty lawyer fees.
The green attorney launched an intense,18-month investigation that would eventually lead to his freedom.
Figgers spent over 2,000 hours researching and interviewing over 75 people to prove James' innocence in the 1990 murder of Francis Mckinnon.
“I couldn’t stop until he was out,” she told NBC News. “So, I kept giving them more. It became overwhelming evidence of his innocence.”
None of the fingerprints found at the scene of the murder belonged to James, Figgers uncovered. Through her research, it was revealed that police had mistaken the wrongfully convicted man's identity with another man who had the same name.
Witnesses came forward decades later after Figgers went door-to-door to supply overwhelming evidence of his innocence to the court.
“I never asked anybody to believe what I was saying,” James said of his conviction. “What I did was say for any and everybody to simply admit that if what I was saying was true, that I had been wrongly convicted. But the only way you can reach that conclusion is to delve into the depths of my situation. Natalie Figgers did. I owe her my life.”
In April, James was finally sent home after a judge ruled that he had been wrongfully imprisoned.
After successfully clearing James' name, Figgers said she added a new specialty to her firm.
“Criminal law was an area of law that I avoided,” she said. “However, this cause is too important to avoid when so many wrongfully convicted are reaching out to me for assistance. Knowing you can save a life is something truly rewarding. Nothing compares to that.”