January 27, 2022

Federal judge reduces pro bono client’s 215-year sentence to time served

On a recent winter morning, Scyrus Dion Hebert walked out of prison for the first time in over 25 years and rejoined his family.  His release follows a victory by his legal team at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, who convinced a federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas to reduce Mr. Hebert’s 215-year sentence to time served.

“This was justice,” Jacobus van der Ven and Lauren Barnett, the attorneys who argued for Mr. Hebert’s sentence reduction at a hearing in Beaumont, Texas, said in a joint statement. “Scyrus has amassed a truly extraordinary and inspiring record of rehabilitation over his decades in prison.  Despite facing a draconian sentence of multiple lifetimes’ incarceration, Scyrus took every step imaginable to pursue and promote personal growth—from enrolling in college-level engineering classes and tutoring other inmates to leading mentorship organizations.” 

In 1997, a federal jury found Mr. Hebert guilty of a string of armed robberies using what turned out to be an inoperable gun, causing no physical injuries. These were the first felony convictions for Mr. Hebert, who had been living out of his car.  Based on the mandatory sentencing regime in place at the time, the court had no choice but to sentence Mr. Hebert to a prison term all but guaranteeing that he would never see freedom again.

But in 2018, Congress—concerned about cases like Mr. Hebert’s—enacted the First Step Act, changing the law under which Mr. Hebert was sentenced. Mr. Hebert and his attorneys at Munger Tolles took this opportunity to ask the judge to grant him a second chance.  The legal team argued that Mr. Hebert’s remarkable record of demonstrated rehabilitation, contrition, and positive contribution to the inmate community—combined with the disparity between the sentence he received and the sentence he would receive today—justified granting Mr. Hebert compassionate release.

U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield agreed.  He described Mr. Hebert as a “paragon of reformation” who, despite facing a sentence of “inconceivable magnitude,” took a “conscientious effort toward self-improvement” and became a “humble[] and contrite” person with “a high level of introspection.”  At a hearing attended by a dozen of Mr. Hebert’s family members, Judge Heartfield decided that “Mr. Hebert has rightly attained a new life.”  He ordered that the prison release Mr. Hebert within ten days.   

Mr. Hebert’s family was overjoyed.

The Munger Tolles team was led by associates Jacobus van der Ven and Lauren Barnett.  The team also included former associate Jeremy Kreisberg and partners Ginger Anders and Robyn Bacon

Pro Bono

Contributing to the community through pro bono work and other forms of volunteerism is a core tenet of the culture at Munger, Tolles & Olson.

The firm was one of the charter signatories to the American Bar Association’s pro bono challenge and consistently devotes more than three percent of all attorney time to delivering needed pro bono legal assistance. We are proud to be one of the select group of firms to have received the ABA’s coveted Pro Bono Publico Award.

Munger Tolles encourages its attorneys to choose pro bono matters that they care about deeply. The American Lawyer described it as “the Munger, Tolles & Olson way … a sense of ownership that extends from patriarch Ronald Olson all the way down to the first-year associates.”