Published on: Saturday, March 12, 2022

Martin McClain, a trailblazing attorney whose representation of Death Row inmates earned accolades from judges, Supreme Court justices and his peers, died suddenly at his home this week (article available here).

In a Florida career that spanned more than three decades, McClain played an instrumental role in the elimination of the electric chair as the state’s sole means of execution, championed clients whose death sentences were overturned and led more than 300 post-conviction appeals in capital cases at the Florida Supreme Court.

News of McClain’s unexpected death shook the close-knit death-penalty legal community. McClain, who served as a mentor to many top death-penalty attorneys, was acclaimed for his encyclopedic knowledge of one of the most complex areas of law.

“A lot of people stood on Marty’s shoulders,” Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the 10th Judicial Circuit who is chairman of the Florida Public Defender Association’s death penalty steering committee, told the News Service. “Marty was an intellectual giant when it came to capital litigation, and a seasoned practitioner. He was generous with his skills and sharing them and hoping that others would use them to save lives.”

“Marty McClain, in my view, set the gold standard for advocacy for Death Row inmates, and he did it with such professionalism, meticulous preparation, and unwillingness to give up on his clients,” former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Pariente said Tuesday.

Former Justice James E.C. Perry called McClain an icon in the death-penalty arena. “He was the best I’ve seen. He was compassionate and he cared about it and he was prepared and he was not afraid to push the envelope. He was creative and on point as it relates to the law.”