During more than 20 years as law partners in Asheboro, Jon Megerian and Frank Wells have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to excellence in capital defense. Their tenacity in and out of the courtroom prompted the Center for Death Penalty Litigation to make them joint recipients of this year’s J. Kirk Osborn Award. They exemplify the leadership, determination, and compassion that are Kirk’s legacy.
Jon and Frank have distinguished themselves by winning life-saving verdicts in some of the most difficult capital cases. In 2011, their client Robert Stewart faced the death penalty for a shooting rampage in a Carthage nursing home that left seven elderly patients and a nurse dead. Stewart was convicted of second-degree murder after Megerian and Wells proved to the jury that Stewart had overdosed on medications and did not even remember his actions on the day of the shooting. And at the 2006 capital trial of Keith Hall, who was accused of murdering four people in a Gaston County trailer park, Megerian and Wells frontloaded powerful mental health evidence. As a result, although Hall was convicted, jurors deadlocked at sentencing after the confounded DA contended that they should not recognize the defendant’s intellectual disability, and should rather attribute his problems to his paranoid schizophrenia. And in 2004, just 15 hours before his scheduled execution, Charles Walker received a stay. Walker ultimately won a new trial and was released from prison.
Jon and Frank have also offered invaluable help to other defense attorneys, and have always been willing to guide and empower fellow lawyers. They have served as teachers at CDPL’s Capital College and facilitated many trainings on the Wymore jury selection method, allowing other lawyers to select juries that will save their clients’ lives. With their own work, they have raised expectations for attorney performance; in their roles as teachers and mentors, they help elevate their peers to meet those standards.
Frank is a member of the NC Advocates for Justice, National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, and the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, as well as a past president of the Randolph County Bar Association. He is also a member of CDPL’s board of directors. Jon is a former member of the Board of Governors for the NC Academy of Trial Lawyers, and a past Bar Councilor for the NC State Bar.
“Their brains, passion, skill, creativity, generosity, tenacity, resilience, compassion, and quick humor – gentle and reflective on Frank’s part, ferocious and sarcastic on Jon’s – make them ideal recipients of the high honor that accompanies this award,” said Janet Moore, former N.C. assistant appellate defender and now a professor of law at the University of Cincinnati. “They literally ‘raise the bar’ by providing a model towards which others can aspire.”