Defending People Facing the Death Penalty: At a virtual session organized by the Harvard Law School library on Tuesday evening, Harvard Law School alumni shared their experiences working in the area of death sentence defense.
Harvard Law School Grads Discuss Death Penalty Defense
At a virtual session organized by the Harvard Law School library on Tuesday evening, Harvard Law School alumni shared their experiences working in the area of death sentence defense.
The library hosted a yearlong series of events relating to its art and history exhibit titled “Visualizing Capital Punishment: Spectacle, Shame, and Sympathy.” One of those events was a panel discussion titled “Death Penalty Defense Work: Prof. Carol Steiker in dialogue with HLS graduates.”
During the session, which was moderated by an HLS professor named Carol S. Steiker ’82, HLS graduates ranging from 2010 to 2021 discussed the requirements necessary to work as a public defender for persons who are facing death sentences.
Nora A. McDonnell, a judicial law clerk in a U.S. District Court in New Mexico, discussed the challenges she encountered when she first began practicing as a capital defense attorney.
“In my one year, I lost everything, like my first client being executed,” McDonnell said. “It was a terrible experience.” “Legally speaking, nothing worked. And that was a complete and utter torment. McDonnell also brought up the topic of whether or not those who are under warrant should be granted religious liberties under the law, and to what degree such rights should be granted.
McDonnell said, “I’m interested to see if there’s more there, or if we’re sort of at capacity in what they’re willing to allow, in terms of accommodating religious preferences and rights at an execution.” “I’m interested to see if there’s more there, or if we’re sort of at capacity in what they’re willing to allow.”
Assistant Federal Public Defender Megan E. Barnes, who works for the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the District of Arizona, recently gave a presentation in which she discussed the significance of “being able to show up for your clients” and the families of those clients.
William E. Ahee, who serves as a staff attorney at The Powell Project, and Julianne R. Hill, who serves as assistant director of The Powell Project, was also featured on the panel as members of The Powell Project. The Powell Project is a group of attorneys who work to oppose the use of the death penalty.
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Julia Welsh, an attorney with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania who specializes in research and writing, recently gave a presentation in which she discussed her experiences fighting against various types of capital punishment in the state of Tennessee.
She claimed that as a member of a specialized team on lethal injections, she helped demonstrate that the state’s process for administering lethal injections was so “unbelievably uncoordinated” that the governor was forced to halt the use of lethal injections until an internal review could be carried out.
Michael B. Admirand, a senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, presented a session in which he discussed the lessons he obtained from his failures and offered guidance to those who are interested in pursuing a career in capital defense.
According to Admirand, “what I’ve always maintained, and what one of my gurus said, is that you need to define winning extremely broadly.”