CHICAGO (November 14, 2018) – The Illinois Bar Foundation (IBF) has named Holland & Knight Partner Richard Winter the 2018 recipient of its prestigious Honorary Fellows Award in recognition of his pro bono efforts to secure the release from prison of Marine Corps veteran Sam Siatta, a decorated Afghanistan war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD). The case was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning article in The New York Times Magazine.
Mr. Siatta was sentenced to six years in an Illinois state prison for a home invasion he committed under the influence of alcohol in April 2014. He said he had no recollection of the event, in which he broke into a home in Normal, Ill., and hit an occupant in the head with a frying pan. Mr. Siatta himself suffered nine stab wounds in the fight with the occupant, who was also a former Marine. Because home invasion causing harm is a Class X felony in Illinois, he was not eligible for probation.
Mr. Winter began representing Mr. Siatta in late 2015, between the conviction in November of that year and the sentencing in January 2016. He filed an appeal in April 2016, basing it on the grounds that Mr. Siatta did not intend to commit the crime because he was involuntarily intoxicated at the time due to alcoholism caused by his PSTD. After being provided additional documentation about Mr. Siatta's combat service, the state's attorney's office agreed – on the condition that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirm Mr. Siatta would be enrolled in mental health care – to cancel the conviction, release Mr. Siatta from prison and recommend a new plea for attempted home invasion, which would carry a sentence of 48 months' probation. On May 19, 2016, he was released from Shawnee Correctional Center on bond, after serving approximately four months in prison.
"The day of Sam's release was very gratifying. I felt that because of my efforts, and those of many others, his life had been truly changed," said Mr. Winter. "I thank the Illinois Bar Foundation for this award and for its leadership in advancing equal justice for all."
Mr. Winter is a commercial litigator with substantial experience in antitrust, shareholder, fiduciary and trade secret litigation. He has been active in a variety of pro bono matters involving veterans, special needs children, adults with disabilities, and Hague Convention matters reuniting children and parents. He is a past recipient of the Northern District of Illinois Award for Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Service.
The award will be presented December 7 at the IBF's midyear meeting in Chicago.
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