“We worked around the clock, day and night, through the week before the execution date,” Ms. Piel wrote in a 2003 essay about the case. “Computers and their printers were not so available then; we had only typewriters.”
Ms. Piel and Ms. Garrett appealed the conviction to the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee, which ruled against them. With less than 16 hours remaining, they petitioned Judge George C. Carr, of the Federal District Court in Tampa, for a stay of execution.
“The judge had before him all the pleadings we had filed in the state courts,” Ms. Piel wrote. “Judge Carr looked at the stack of paper and declared: ‘I can’t read these papers before 7 o’clock tomorrow morning. Stay of execution is granted.’”
In 1988, after the lawyers involved the news media — notably The Washington Post, The Miami Herald and the ABC News magazine “20/20” — the brothers were allowed to plead guilty to murder in exchange for their release.
Their plea meant that charges could not be brought against the actual killer, despite the fact, Ms. Piel wrote, that “there was ample evidence to convict him of that crime.”
“It was a travesty,” she told Transcript Magazine, a publication of her alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, Law School, in 2009. “But they were freed.”
Ms. Piel’s interest in championing the marginalized began, she said, in childhood.
Eleanor Virden Jackson was born on Sept. 22, 1920, in Santa Monica, Calif. Her father, Louis, a doctor, was a Lithuanian Jew. (The original family name was Koussevitzky — the conductor Serge Koussevitzky was a cousin — which, upon arriving in the United States, Louis changed to Jackson, the most American surname he could conceive.)