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2021-22 Symposium: Revoking Irrevocable Punishment

The Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights & Social Justice presents

"Revoking Irrevocable Punishment"

A Virtual Symposium
February 10 and 11, 2022

In 2021, Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty. This is one of the most significant abolitionist events in capital punishment history, and we hope you can join us for this important conversation. The entirety of the Symposium will be hosted virtually, but we will be joined in-person by Joseph Giarratano for the Panel A Conversation with Four Former Death Row Inmates, and Professor David Bruck will join us in-person for our first keynote address. The Symposium will conclude Friday with the second keynote address by Professor Stephen Bright.



Keynote Speakers

After 16 years as Director of W&L’s Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, David Bruck left W&L in 2020 to accept an appointment as lead counsel for Ramzi Bin al Shibh, one of the five alleged 9/11 conspirators now charged with capital offenses before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Before coming to W&L in 2004, Bruck practiced law in South Carolina for 28 years, specializing in defending clients facing the death penalty at trial and on appeal. He served as a county public defender, as the South Carolina state appellate defender, and since 1992 as a part-time Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, assisting court-appointed lawyers in federal capital cases throughout the United States. Before his current assignment at Guantanamo Bay, his capital trial clients have included Susan Smith (Union County SC 1995), Dzhohkar Tsarnaev (the Boston Marathon Bombing case, 2015), and Dylann Roof (the Emanuel AME Church murders, Charleston SC, 2016-17). Bruck has also argued more than 70 death penalty appeals, including seven before the United States Supreme Court, and has helped train capital defense lawyers throughout the United States. He graduated from Harvard College in 1971 and from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1975.

Stephen B. Bright has been practicing law since 1975, representing people in capital cases since 1979, and teaching at Yale and other law schools since 1993. He has tried death penalty cases before juries in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, and argued capital cases before state and federal appellate courts, including four arguments before the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of his client in each case; three involved racial discrimination in jury selection and the fourth involved funds for a mental health expert for a poor person facing the death penalty. He was director and president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, where he spent 34 years. He now teaches at the law schools at Yale and Georgetown Universities. He received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998. The Daily Report, Georgia’s legal newspaper, named him “Newsmaker of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia that year.

Our Panelists

February 10 at 11:50am – Opening Remarks

Sister Helen Prejean is known around the world for her tireless work against the death penalty. She has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on capital punishment and in shaping the Catholic Church’s vigorous opposition to all executions. She is known for her best-selling book, Dead Man Walking (1993), based on her experiences with two convicts on death row for whom she served as spiritual adviser before their executions. She served as the National Chairperson of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1993 to 1995. She helped establish The Moratorium Campaign, seeking an end to executions and conducting education on the death penalty. Prejean also founded the group SURVIVE to help families of victims of murder and related crimes.

February 10 at 12:00pm – The “Worst of the Worst” Cases

Marc Bookman

Marc Bookman is the Executive Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a non-profit resource center founded in 2010 and dedicated to all aspects of death penalty defense. He was in the Homicide Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia from its inception in 1993 until 2010. He has published essays in The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Slateand other magazines on various aspects of death penalty jurisprudence, and a compilation of those essays entitled A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays was published by the New Press in May, 2021.

Steve Northup

Stephen A. Northup is a retired partner with the law firm Troutman Pepper. His career was focused on complex commercial litigation, with many of his cases set in federal courts throughout the country. Early in his career he took on, pro bono, post conviction cases on behalf of two inmates on Virginia’s death row. In the early 2000s he accepted an appointment to represent an inmate from Virginia on federal death row in a post conviction challenge to his conviction and death sentence; currently, he still represents this client. Mr. Northup’s pro work has included a number of wrongful conviction cases, among them such high profile cases as The Norfolk Four ( He has continued to do pro bono work during his retirement, exclusively representing prisoners or former prisoners seeking relief from wrongful convictions or release on parole.

Jonathan Shapiro

Jonathan Shapiro has practiced criminal law in the federal and state courts for the past 45 years. He has been listed for years in Washingtonian Magazine’s survey of best criminal lawyers. Among his clients were accused CIA spy Harold Nicholson and accused NSA spy Brian Regan.  Along with his partner Peter Greenspun he represented “Beltway Sniper” John Allen Muhammad. He received the 2001 Peter Cicchino Alumni Award for Outstanding Advocacy In The Public Interest Within The United States from The American University Washington College of Law, and the 2018 Elliott Milstein Award for Professional Excellence, also from Washington College of Law.  He received the 2017 Impacting Justice Award from the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. Mr. Shapiro was previously a clinical instructor at the Washington College of Law, where he was also the director of the Institutionalized Persons Clinic.  He teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence and the Criminal Practice Practicum.

Gerald Zerkin

Gerald Zerkin graduated fromBrandeis University and received his JD from Boston College Law School in 1976. He has practiced in Virginia since then, concentrating on habeas corpus, criminal defense and civil rights litigation. He represented 15 Virginia death row inmates in habeas corpus proceedings. In 1996, he began defending federal capital cases. He served as Senior Litigator for the Federal Defender Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, beginning in 2001, responsible for the defense of all the FDO’s capital cases, and then as Federal Capital Resource Counsel, assisting and advising federal capital defense teams in the Eastern U.S., until his retirement in 2015. He returned to private practice, focusing on federal criminal defense, including capital cases. He represented Zaccarias Moussaoui, the only 9/11 defendant prosecuted in civilian court, and Darrell Rice, the wrongly accused defendant in a Shenandoah National Park double homicide, and he was counsel for two Virginia death row exonerees. He has defended federal capital cases in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York and Louisiana. He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

February 10 at 1:30pm – Race and Capital Punishment

John Bessler

John Bessler teaches at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Georgetown University Law Center. He has authored multiple books on capital punishment, including The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition(2017), Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders’ Eighth Amendment(2012), and Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota(2003). He served as the editor of Justice Stephen Breyer’s Against the Death Penalty (2016), and his book,The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution(2014), won the Scribes Book Award for “the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year.” He has also taught at the University of Minnesota, the George Washington University, Rutgers, and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. In 2018, he received a University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Faculty Award for his scholarship.

Daniel Harawa

Daniel S. Harawais an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, where he directs the appellate clinic. Daniel’s research interests focus on the intersections of race, civil rights, and criminal law, and whether adequate process is afforded to criminal defendants. Daniel also litigates civil rights and criminal cases before the Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals across the country. Prior to joining the WashU faculty, Daniel was assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and an appellate staff attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.Daniel is a graduate of the University of Richmond and Georgetown University Law Center. Following law school, Daniel clerked for the Honorable Roger L. Gregory of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Robert Tsai

Robert L. Tsai is Professor of Law and Alumni Law Scholar at Boston University’s School of Law. Tsai is a graduate of Yale Law School, and clerked for Denny Chin (SDNY) and Hugh Bownes (USCA-1st Circuit). He is the author of three books on constitutional theory and legal history, including his latest, Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation (W.W. Norton 2020). His current book project, Ask the Impossible (under contract with W.W. Norton), explores the legal strategies and organizing tactics of anti-death penalty activists in the Deep South during the 1980s and 90s—the early decades of mass incarceration in the United States. Based on archival research and interviews with staff members of the Southern Center for Human Rights, the book shows what can be accomplished to resist a rising tide of tough-on-crime policies that fell hardest on the poor and racial minorities.

February 10 at 3:00pm – Mental Illness, Intellectual Disability, and Capital Punishment

John Blume

John Blume is the Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques at Cornell Law School and the Director of the Cornell Death Penalty and Juvenile Justice Projects.Professor Blume earned a BA from UNC Chapel Hill, a MAR from Yale Divinity School and a JD from Yale Law School. He returned to his home state of South Carolina in 1985 after clerking for the Honorable Tom Clark. He was a partner at Bruck & Blume in Columbia, South Carolina, before founding Justice 360 SC in 1988, a non-profit corporation dedicated to the representation of persons on death row and juveniles sentenced to draconian punishments. He joined the faculty at Cornell in 1997, where he teaches Criminal Procedure, Federal Appellate Practice and directs the Capital Punishment and Juvenile Justice Clinics. He has represented numerous death sentenced inmates at trial, on direct appeal and in post-conviction and federal habeas corpus proceedings.He has also argued eight cases in the United States Supreme Court. In addition, he has written numerous articles and book chapters, and two books, about capital punishment and is currently at work on a book with several colleagues exploring the history of the pre-Furman death penalty in South Carolina.

Richard Bonnie

Richard J. Bonnie is Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law and Director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He specializes in criminal law and health lawProfessor Bonnie has been involved in public service throughout his career, including appointments as Secretary for the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse from 1976-80 and Chair of Virginia’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform (2005-11). He has served as an advisor to the American Psychiatric Association since 1979, receiving the Isaac Ray Award in 1998 and presidential commendations for service to American psychiatry in 2003 and 2016. He has also served on three MacArthur Foundation research networks, including, most recently, Law and Neuroscience.Professor Bonnie has been interested in capital punishment throughout his career. He initiated post-conviction challenges to the first four death sentences handed down in Virginia after the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Professor Bonnie was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 1991 and has chaired more than a dozen studies for the National Academies, includingPain Management and the Opioid Epidemic (2017) and The Promise of Adolescence,(2019). He received the University of Virginia’s highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award, in 2007.

James Ellis

James W. Ellis is Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of New Mexico, where he has taught Criminal Law, Mental Disability Law, and Constitutional Rights since 1976. Professor Ellis had worked at the Yale Psychiatric Institute (performing alternate service as a conscientious objector) and at the Mental Health Law Project (now the Bazelon Center) before entering teaching. He served as a Law Reporter for the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards Project and as President of the American Association on Mental Retardation(now the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities). He is the principal author of well over twenty briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, and argued in Atkins v. Virginia. He also worked to obtain passage of statutes protecting people with mental retardation from the death penalty in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. Professor Ellis was named by the National Historic Trust on Mental Retardation as one of 36 significant figures in the field of mental retardation in the twentieth century. In 2002, The National Law Journal named him their“Lawyer of the Year.”

Sheri Johnson

Sheri Lynn Johnson is an expert on the interface of race and issues in criminal procedure, and the Assistant Director of the Cornell Death Penalty project, an initiative to foster empirical scholarship on the death penalty, offer students an opportunity to work with practitioners on death penalty cases, and to provide information and assistance for death penalty lawyers. After her graduation from Yale Law School in 1979, Professor Johnson worked for a year in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society, and then joined the Cornell Law School Faculty in 1981. Professor Johnson co-founded the Cornell Death Penalty Project in 1993. She currently teaches constitutional and criminal law, and supervises the post-conviction litigation and capital trial clinics.

Kevin Werner

Kevin Werner joined the Ohio Justice & Policy Center as Policy Director in 2019. Kevin is the primary staff member responsible for policy advocacy and lobbying initiatives. He has spent his career working in social justice-oriented organizations advocating for individuals on the margins of society in cities across the country through his work as a Jesuit Volunteer then at Citizens’ Campaigns Network. At CCN, Kevin led grassroots campaigns in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Austin, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Immediately before joining OJPC, Kevin led Ohioans to Stop Executions from 2007-2019. Working alongside death row exonerees, murder victims’ family members, and the families of people on death row ignites his passion to reform the criminal legal system. Kevin was instrumental in efforts to ban Ohio’s death penalty for individuals with severe mental illness. Kevin holds a B.A. in Political Science from Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV. 

February 10 at 4:30pm – A Conversation with Former Death Row Inmates

Sabrina Butler-Smith

Sabrina Butler-Smith was a loving teenage mother when she was wrongfully convicted in the death of her nine-month-old son in Mississippi. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing, after spending six and a half years incarcerated, two of those years on death row. She was the first woman exonerated from death row in the US. She now works to change legislation, determined to make the system better so others, especially youth, do not have to experience what she did.

Gary Drinkard

Gary Drinkardspent close to six years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit. After his exoneration 2001, he attended college and worked as a laborer and as a Peer Specialist for Witness to Innocence, where he supported fellow exonerated death row survivors as they navigate life after exoneration. Gary contributes his gentle yet powerful voice as a speaker in the movement to abolish the death penalty, traveling throughout the US and overseas to share his story of wrongful conviction and incarceration on death row.

Joseph Giarratano

Mr. Giarratano spent thirteen years on death row (he received a Conditional Pardon in 1991 from the former Governor Douglas Wilder due to serious doubts about the crime for which he was convicted) and a total of 39 years in prison. Upon his release Mr. Giarratano joined forces with the UVA Innocence Project. After completing his time with the Innocence Project he signed on with a small law firm where he worked as a paralegal handling criminal defense matters. Mr. Giarratano currently works for Premier Jury Consulting Services, LLC out of Richmond, VA (owned and operated by Senator Joseph D. Morrissey.Mr. Giarratano has attracted significant attention due to the innovative legal scholarship he has brought to his involvement in the right-to-counsel and other death penalty litigation, criminal justice reform, and to the articles he has published on Criminal Justice issues.

February 11 at 10:00am – Contributions and Impact of VC3 in Virginia’s Abolition

Dawn Davison

Dawn Davison is Director of Public Service at the University of Virginia School of Law. Previously, she was a senior staff attorney with the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, a nonprofit law firm specializing in the representation of condemned inmates. At the Resource Center, Davison represented inmates in their state and federal habeas corpus proceedings and clemency applications for more than 13 years. In 2017, she was awarded the Bill Geimer Award by her peers for being a dedicated capital defender. At the time of abolition, she represented the last two inmates on Virginia’s death row. Both men had their death sentences commuted to life without parole. Davison earned her B.A. in theatre with a minor in psychology from the University of New Mexico.She earned her J.D. and graduated Order of the Coif from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 2007. At W&L Law, she was in the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, helped found Students for an Innocence Project, and was a staff writer for the Washington and Lee Law Review. After graduating, Davison clerked for U.S. Judge James P. Jones of the Western District of Virginia.

Bernadette Donovan

Bernadette Donovan is an Adjunct Professor at Washington & Lee School of Law, where she teaches Death Penalty Law. In 2016–17 and 2020–21, Donovan was a Visiting Professor and Co-Director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse. Before the abolition of Virginia’s death penalty, Donovan was Co-Chair of the Capital Defense Work Planning Committee, which was responsible for Virginia’s annual death penalty defense training. Donovan is a partner in Donovan & Engle, PLLC, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donovan is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where she was an Executive Editor of the Virginia Law Review. Before that, she received her B.A. with both General and Departmental Honors from the University of Chicago, where she studied Human Development with a specialization in Mental Health Issues. Donovan integrates this education into her practice, sensitively assisting clients with mental health needs.

Matthew Engle

Matthew Engle is a partner in the firm of Donovan & Engle in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law, where he currently teaches a course on the death penalty. After receiving his JD with honors in 2001, Matthew took a job as a Staff Attorney at the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center (VCRRC). After six years at VCRRC, Matthew began working with the Office of the Capital Defender for Northern Virginia. In 2010, Matthew joined the University of Virginia School of Law as the Legal Director of the Innocence Project Clinic. For four years, Matthew taught at UVA while representing wrongfully convicted inmates in various proceedings. For the 2014-15 academic year, Matthew taught at Washington and LeeUniversity School of Law, his alma mater. He also served as the interim director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse. In 2015, Matthew transitioned to private practice with his partner, Bernadette Donovan. He currently represents capital murder defendants at the trial level throughout Virginia. He also continues to represent wrongfully convicted inmates in post-conviction proceedings.

Joseph Flood

Joseph Flood began doing capital work as a student fellow with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he focused on impact litigation in the South. After law school, Mr. Flood clerked for the Eleventh Circuit, where he drafted several opinions in capital cases. After his clerkship, Mr. Flood represented death row inmates as a staff attorney for the Alabama Resource Center (now Equal Justice Initiative). In 1995, following New York’s reenactment of capital punishment, Mr. Flood opened the Rochester office of the New York Capital Defender, and represented capital defendants until New York abolished the death penalty. In 2005, Mr. Flood moved to Virginia to run the Capital Defender Office for Northern Virginia. Since 2009, Mr. Flood has worked as a capital litigator in private practice. Mr. Flood continues to represent capital defendants and is a program attorney for the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program.

Scott Sundby

Scott Sundby is Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law. Professor Sundby’s writings have appeared in the Virginia, Columbia, Cornell, UCLA, and Texas law reviews. Much of his research has been conducted as part of the Capital Jury Project, a study funded by the National Science Foundation that is designed to understand how juries decide whether or not to impose the death penalty. His articles have examined a variety of aspects of the death-penalty decision and have been cited by over forty-five different courts, including the United States Supreme Court. His book, A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty, focuses on the human side of the decision by listening to how different jurors from the same case describe their jury’s decision to impose a death sentence.

February 11 at 11:30am – Politics and Strategy of Virginia’s Abolition

Rita Davis

Rita Davis is orginially from Bedford County and majored in English at Washington and Lee University. After graduation, she spent three and a half years as a police officer with the Lynchburg City Police Department. Ms. Davis left the police department to attend the University of Richmond School of Law, where she graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Davis then clerked for the Honorable Richard S. Arnold on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. After her clerkship, Ms. Davis joined the Richmond office of Hunton Andrews Kurth as a complex commercial litigator. After 15 years with the firm and a promotion to Counsel, Ms. Davis joined the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia as Section Chief for Trials in the Civil Litigation Division. She supervised a team of 21 attorneys defending the Commonwealth in civil, employment law, and workers compensation litigation. In January 2018, Ms. Davis was appointed as Counsel to Governor Ralph S. Northam, and she was the first woman to be appointed to the position. In August of 2021, Ms. Davis joined the Department of Defense as Deputy General Counsel at the Pentagon, where her responsibilities include providing legal advice and services in the broad areas of privacy, counterintelligence, security plans and programs, voting assistance, standards of conduct, investigative matters, and complex litigation.

Doug Ramseur

Doug Ramseur is the founder of The Ram Law Firm PLLC, a criminal litigation firm in Richmond, Virginia. Previously, Doug served as the Capital Defender for Central Virginia and Southeastern Virginia, where he was responsible for defending people charged with capital murder in more than 80 jurisdictions throughout Virginia. Doug has been lead counsel for more than 30 people charged with death penalty offenses in Virginia and Georgia and been designated Learned Counsel in federal death penalty cases across the country. Doug is an Adjunct Professor at The University of Richmond School of Law, a Past-President of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and teaching faculty for the National College of Capital Voir Dire in Boulder, Colorado.He was honored with the Bill Geimer Award by Washington and Lee’s Capital Defense Clinic. Doug is a graduate of James Madison University and the University of Richmond School of Law.

Michael Stone

Michael Stone is the Executive Director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Prior to this position, he worked as a Field Organizer for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. In that role, he worked with abolition organizations in Virginia, Missouri, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Michael has spoken about capital punishment to faith communities and other organizations across the Commonwealth. He has also identified opponents to the death penalty among “unlikely allies” – including political conservatives and murder victim family members. Michael also worked for 25 years in social ministry for Office of Justice & Peace for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond from 1984 to 2009. In that position he was the diocesan Respect Life Coordinator for that 25 year period. Michael earned Bachelor of Science degrees in Economics and Urban Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.A. degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. He is a former board member of the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and the Richmond Peace Education Center. Michael has worked on issues as diverse as economic justice, affordable housing, abortion, stem cell research, assisted suicide, globalization, fair trade, immigration reform, capital punishment, and socially responsible investment. He has been married for 32 years to Ruth Anne Young, and is the father of two young men who are 26 and 24 years of age. He was a long-time member of the Men’s Choir at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, taught religious education classes to high school students, and served as the Treasurer for his son’s Boy Scout Troop. Michael loves science fiction & fantasy novels, short stories, & films. He is a life-long St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and enjoys watching European soccer matches, especially Liverpool and Barcelona. His goal is to visit & hike in as many national parks as he can in the coming years.

February 11 at 1:00pm – What Comes Next?

Rob Dunham

Robert Dunham is the Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center and a nationally recognized expert on the death penalty. Before coming to DPIC in March 2015, he was one of the leading capital appellate lawyers in Pennsylvania, arguing on behalf of the Commonwealth’s death-row prisoners in its state and federal courts and in the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Dunham previously served as Executive Director of the former Pennsylvania Capital Case Resource Center; Director of Training of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Philadelphia federal defender’s office; and as an assistant federal defender in the Harrisburg federal defender’s capital habeas unit. He taught death penalty law at Villanova Law School for eleven years and has served on the Steering Committee of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project and on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Corinna Barrett Lain

Professor Corinna Barrett Lain is the S.D. Roberts and Sandra Moore Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law, where she teaches criminal procedure, evidence, and a course on the death penalty. Professor Lain is a constitutional law scholar who writes about the influence of extralegal norms on Supreme Court decision-making, and also a death penalty scholar who is currently writing a book on lethal injection. Her scholarship has been published in the top law reviews in the country, including the Stanford Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, UCLA Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, and Duke Law Journal. Professor Lain graduated summa cum laude from the College of William and Mary in 1992, and received her J.D. from the University of Virginia in 1996, where she was elected to Order of the Coif. She clerked on the Tenth Circuit and then prosecuted for three years before entering the academy in 2001. Professor Lain is a recipient of the University of Richmond’s Distinguished Educator Award and is also a former sergeant in the United States Army.

Carol Steiker

Carol Steiker is the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where she serves as the Dean’s Special Advisor for Public Service. She also served as Faculty Co-Director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Policy Program from 2015-2020. Professor Steiker specializes in the broad field of criminal justice, where her work ranges from substantive criminal law to criminal procedure to institutional design, with a special focus on capital punishment. Her most recent books are Comparative Capital Punishment, co-edited with her brother Jordan Steiker (Edward Elgar 2019) and Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, co-authored with Jordan Steiker (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2016). Professor Steiker is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she served as president of the Harvard Law Review, the second woman to hold that position in its then 99-year history. After clerking for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court, she worked as a staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she represented indigent defendants at all stages of the criminal process. In addition to her scholarly work, Professor Steiker has done pro bono work for indigent criminal defendants, including death penalty cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, and she was appointed to the board of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the statewide public defender for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has served as a consultant and expert witness on issues of criminal justice and capital punishment for non-profit organizations and has testified before Congress and state legislatures.

Jordan Steiker

Professor Steiker is the Judge Robert M. Parker Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law He teaches constitutional law, criminal law, and death penalty law, and is Co-Director of the law school’s Capital Punishment Center. He has written extensively on constitutional law, federal habeas corpus, and the death penalty. Some of his recent publications include: Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2016, with Carol Steiker), winner of the Hamilton Book Award; The American Death Penalty and the (In)Visibility of Race, 82 U. Chi L. Rev 243 (2015) (with Carol Steiker); The Death Penalty from a Consequentialist Perspective, 47 Tex. Tech. L. Rev. 211 (2014). Along with his sister/co-author Professor Carol Steiker, he co-authored the report to the American Law Institute prompting the withdrawal of the death penalty provisions of the Model Penal Code. He has served as a visiting professor to Harvard Law School several times, most recently as the Touroff-Glueck Visiting Professor of Law and Psychiatry, Fall, 2018.

Our Moderators

Alex Klein

Professor Alexandra Klein researches and teaches in the area of criminal law, criminal procedure constitutional law, and the death penalty. Her scholarship has been published in, or is forthcoming in the Ohio State Law Journal, the Florida Law Review, and the Washington and Lee Law Review. Before joining Washington and Lee University School of Law, Klein served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Sally D. Adkins of the Maryland Court of Appeals and the Honorable Danny J. Boggs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. 

Klein received her J.D., summa cum laude, from Washington and Lee University School of Law.  She served as a Senior Articles Editor on the Washington and Lee Law Review and received the Washington and Lee Law Council Law Review Award, the Clinical Legal Education Association Award, the Barry W. Sullivan Constitutional Law Award, and the John W. Davis Prize for Law.  Professor Klein graduated Order of the Coif and was inducted into Phi Delta Phi and Omnicron Delta Kappa.

Klein served in the United States Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova from 2008 to 2010 and received her B.F.A., cum laude, from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

Denise Lunsford

A 1990 graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law, Denise Lunsford teaches courses in criminal law and legal writing at the school as a member of the adjunct faculty. Lunsford’s practice primarily relates to criminal matters, Title IX complaints, and mental health issues. In criminal matters, she represents individuals in Virginia trial courts ranging from driving offenses to murder. Lunsford also assists and advises consumers, family members, community members, and organizations on issues related to mental health, including civil commitment, guardianship, therapeutic docket, and alternatives to incarceration. Lunsford previously served two terms as the elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for Albemarle County, Virginia. Lunsford’s teaching experience includes courses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Virginia and as an Adjunct Professor with the Criminal Defense Clinic at the University of VirginiaSchool of Law.

Todd Peppers

A graduate of Washington and Lee University, the University of Virginia School of Law, and Emory University, Peppers holds the Fowler Chair in Public Affairs at Roanoke College and for the past decade has been a visiting professor of law at the Washington and Lee School of Law. Peppers is the author, co-author, editor, and/or co-editor of six books and over twenty-five articles on the federal courts and the death penalty. His newest book will be published later this year by the University of Virginia Press and examines the life and work of former Virginia death row chaplain Russ Ford.

Meghan Shapiro

Meghan Shapiro is a capital trial and appellate litigator. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law’s Capital Punishment Center, she clerked for the Honorable Leonie M. Brinkema, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and has had the further honors of serving as Deputy Capital Defender for Northern Virginia, staff attorney at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, resource counsel with the Texas Habeas Assistance and Training Project, and senior public defender for the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission’s Appellate Cohort. Meghan has been a board member of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary, and founder of The Friends Fund, a charitable organization serving formerly-capitally-accused persons now incarcerated in Virginia. She has been published in The Virginia Lawyer, the American Journal of Criminal Law, How Can You Represent Those People, eds. Abbe Smith and Monroe Freedman (Palgrave Macmillan 2013), and Defending a Federal Criminal Case, 2016 ed. (Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.).

Christina Swarns

Christina Swarns is the Executive Director of the Innocence Project. She previously served as the President and Attorney-in-Charge of the Office of the Appellate Defender, Inc. (OAD), one of New York City’s oldest institutional providers of indigent appellate defense representation; as the Litigation Director for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF); as a Supervising Assistant Federal Defender in the Capital Habeas Corpus Unit of the Philadelphia Community Defender Office; and as a Staff Attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division in New York. Christina argued, and won, Buck v. Davis, a challenge to the introduction of explicitly racially biased evidence in a Texas death penalty case, in the United States Supreme Court. Christina is one of few Black women to have argued before the Supreme Court and was the only Black woman to argue in the 2016 Supreme Court Term. Christina earned a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Howard University.

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