The Wall Street Journal tells the story of how Jabbar Collins argued his way out of prison after serving 15 years for the high-profile murder of a rabbi. As the Journal tells it, “There was no crusading journalist, no nonprofit group taking up his cause, just Inmate 95A2646, a high-school dropout from Brooklyn, alone in a computerless prison law library.” Adele Bernard of the Pace Law School’s Post-Conviction Project says, “‘Needle in a haystack’ doesn’t communicate it exactly. Is it more like lightning striking your house.”
Collins pried documents from wary prosecutors, tracked down reluctant witnesses and persuaded them, at least once through trickery, to reveal what allegedly went on before and at the trial where he was convicted. “I think that my worst bad day out of prison will be better than my greatest good day in prison,” he says. Collins, though a skilled jailhouse lawyer who helped many other inmates, could take his own appeal only so far without help. In 2005, after 10 years working alone, he contacted Joel Rudin, a civil-rights attorney known for winning what was then the largest wrongful-conviction settlement in New York, $5 million. Collins now works as a paralegal for Rudin.