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Death Penalty Project
Past and Upcoming Events

Capital Mitigation WorkshopSeptember 20-23, 2012, Ithaca, NY
This event brought together lawyers, investigators, and mental health professionals from across the country for the purpose of developing and improving the skills of mitigation specialists in capital cases. Over the course of the program, participants took part in session designed to broaden their substantive knowledge of relevant law, principles of advocacy, and mental health issues, and participated in a series of practical exercises aimed at developing their interviewing and fact development skills in a range of settings.

Supreme Court Advocacy InstituteJune 8-10, 2012, New York, NY
The goal of this new training initiative was to improve the quality of strategic planning and advocacy on behalf of death-sentenced inmates in the Supreme Court of the United States, and in the process of obtaining or avoiding Supreme Court review. While all facets of Supreme Court practice were be addressed, the emphasis of the program was on the pre-merits stages of Supreme Court litigation, including tactics and techniques for writing persuasive petitions for certiorari, opposing certiorari when the client won below, handling amici curiae, etc.

Visit by Colleagues from the China University of Law and Political ScienceOctober 31 - November 14, 2009
The Project received a grant to collaborate with academics and lawyers from the China University of Law and Political Science to establish the first death penalty clinic in China. This clinic will represent Chinese death sentenced inmates in their appeals before the Supreme People's Court of China. The Cornell Death Penalty Project will be working with our Chinese colleagues to develop the curriculum and course materials, and to devise strategies for transporting lessons learned in American clinical education in the capital case context to the different cultural and legal context of China.

Persuasion InstituteSeptember 11-13, 2009, Ithaca, NY
The program's goal was to improve habeas advocacy at all stages of the proceedings through teaching techniques that can be used in persuasive oral and written advocacy, including the effective use of narrative and storytelling elements such as theories, themes, setting, perspective, and sequence. The program brought together capital post-conviction attorneys, writers, and academics who worked on persuasive advocacy techniques in small groups.

Capital Punishment Stories:Perspectives and Retrospectives on Landmark Death Penalty Cases,
at the University Texas School of Law,
November 2-3, 2007
The conference featured presentations about the events that culminated in certain landmark death penalty cases and perspectives on the ultimate significace of those decisions by authors of the book Capital Punishment Stories (forthcoming from Foundation Press, 2008), edited by Professor Blume and Jordan Steiker. 

"The Great Writ: Developments in the Law of Habeas Corpus"The Project co-sponsored a symposium focused on recent developments in the law of habeas corpus in all its principal manifestations: as a form of federal review of state criminal convictions; as a judicial restraint on the executive detention of enemy combatants in the war on terrorism; and as a form of judicial review of immigrant detention or deportation. Participants examined the Supreme Court's recent rulings in enemy combatant cases, the effects of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

"Implications of the Death Penalty and International Law"In April 2003, the Project returned to William and Mary to sponsor this second conference exploring the impact of international human rights treaties, conventions, and commissions on the use of the death penalty, with particular attention to issues pertaining to the death penalty for juveniles, consular notification, and extradition. Other speakers included both American and foreign legal scholars, government officials, and diplomats.

"Justice Overcoming Revenge: Responsibility, Community, and Healing in Response to Violence"The Project sponsored this program on March 12, 2003, which consisted of a panel discussion including the family members of both victims and their killers. Bill Babbitt, whose brother, Manny Babbitt, was sentenced to death and executed, talked about how he suspected his brother's involvement in the robbery and beating of an elderly woman who died of a heart attack as a result of the beating. Manny had recently returned from Vietnam. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had also been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. After much soul-searching, Bill chose to turn his brother over to the police so that he couldn't harm others. The police assured Bill that he had done the right thing, that his brother would receive appropriate treatment for his mental illness and would not be subject to the death penalty. Almost 25 years later, Bill Babbitt said he feels betrayed by a criminal justice system that fails offenders and their families. David Kacynski (brother of Ted Kacynski, the so-called Unabomber) agreed with Mr. Babbitt, saying "I felt tremendously betrayed by the inhumanity and injustice I saw in the system." The panel was completed by Gary Wright, who in 1986 was almost killed by one of Ted Kacynski's bombs, and Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Bud Welch argued that the death penalty system in America politicizes death. "The thing that sticks out the most is that the only ones we kill in this country are the easy ones, the poor ones," Mr. Welch said. "The death penalty is truly about politics." Gary Wright spoke about Timothy McVeigh's execution. "There was nothing about that process," he said, "that gave me peace." Instead, he said, it was "a huge, staged political event, devoid of personal meaning."


"Victims and the Death Penalty Inside and Outside the Courtroom"

The Cornell Death Penalty Project and the Cornell Law Review came together again to sponsor this symposium addressing issues surrounding victims' involvement in the capital trial process, including the power of victim-impact statements; the participation of victims' families as witnesses at execution; and whether execution truly provides victims' families with a sense of closure. The interdisciplinary event brought lawyers, psychologists, and social workers from across the country together for a day-long session. During the first half of the day, participants presented empirical research on a range of topics, including the influence of victim impact evidence on juror decision-making. The research was based on both mock jury studies and interviews with jurors who served on capital cases. The second half of the day was devoted to a roundtable discussion addressing what role, if any, victims' families should play in a capital trial, and on the limits, if any, that law should impose on the use of victim impact testimony. The symposium's proceedings were published in the January 2003 issue of the Cornell Law Review.

"Religion’s Role in the Administration of the Death Penalty"

The Project co-sponsored this conference at the William and Mary School of Law in December of 2000. Project members participated in a panel discussion. The conferences papers were published in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal.

"How the Death Penalty Works: Empirical Studies of the Modern Capital Sentencing System"Together with the Cornell Law Review, the Project sponsored this at the law school on March 28, 1998. The symposium brought together a number of nationally renowned death penalty scholars, including David Baldus of the University of Iowa College of Law [2], Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, Jordan Steiker of the University of Texas School of Law, and Scott Sundby '83 of the Washington and Lee University School of Law. Five members of the law school's faculty also participated. The symposium's papers were published in the September 1998 issue of the Cornell Law Review.

Exonerated death row inmate Joseph Amrine.


The Cornell Death Penalty Project has also sponsored several speakers to give open talks to the Cornell Law School community:

  • Justice Costa Pleicones
    Presided over and ruled on many capital cases as a trial judge and as an Associate Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
  • Trey Gowdy
    Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina's Fourth District, and former Circuit Solicitor for South Carolina's Seventh Judicial Circuit. As Solicitor, Mr. Gowdy prosecuted the case against one of the Project's clients.
  • Ray Krone
    The 100th former death row inmate freed due to innocence, discussed his wrongful conviction, time on Arizona’s death row, and exoneration through DNA evidence.
  • Mandy Welch and Richard Burr
    Experienced death penalty litigators who represented Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was convicted, sentenced to death, and exexuted in connection with the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. 
  • David Bruck
    A nationally recognized capital defense lawyer who represented Susan Smith and is now a federal death-penalty resource counsel.
  • Rolando Cruz, Wilbert Rideau, Susan Jacobs, Peter Pringle, Joe Armine, Nate Fields and Kirk Bloodsworth
    Exonerated death row inmates.
  • Penny White
    Former justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, who lost her bid for reelection to the court owing largely to the concurring vote she cast in a single capital case.
  • Judge John T. Noonan
    Of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, widely regarded as one of the courts more liberal members on capital punishment.
  • Judge Alex Kozinski
    Also of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, widely regarded as one of the court’s more conservative members.
  • Scott Schools
    General counsel at the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and former U.S. Attorney. Mr. Schools prosecuted the case against one of the Project’s clients, Chad Fulks.
  • Dr. Ruben Gur
    Professor of psychology and director of the Brain Behavior Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania where he studies brain development in young adults.