ABA Death Penalty Representation Project marks 25 years of service

The American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project, created in 1986 to help ensure fair trials and quality legal representation for those facing a possible death sentence, is recognizing its 25th anniversary Sept. 14, with a program featuring retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and death row exoneree Anthony Graves. Exceptional Service Awards will also be presented to Arnold & Porter LLP, Dorsey & Whitney LLP and Fredrikson & Byron, PA, for the pro bono work their lawyers have provided in representing death-sentenced prisoners.

The project is honoring Stevens for his lifetime of work and unwavering dedication to equal justice. After many years of support for capital punishment, Stevens publicly declared his opposition to the death penalty for juvenile offenders just two years before his retirement from the Court. Later, he joined three other justices in concluding that capital punishment is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

Also making remarks at the program is death row exoneree Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison in Texas for a crime he did not commit. Graves was exonerated and released late last year, becoming the12th person to be exonerated from the state's death row since 1973 and the 139th such person in the country.

Three law firms will be honored for their commitment to death penalty representation and the pro bono work of their lawyers:

*Arnold & Porter LLP has made death penalty representation a priority in the past four decades. Firm lawyers have participated in several individual high-profile cases that have overturned death penalty convictions.

*Dorsey & Whitney LLP has a 20-year history of providing pro bono legal services to death row prisoners, primarily in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. Dorsey is currently handling death penalty cases for three prisoners.

*Fredrikson & Byron, PA has provided lawyers to assist death row prisoners in Louisiana, including the case of Dobie Gillis Williams, whose case was highlighted in the book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.

For the past 25 years, the project's work has focused on the crisis of counsel in the death penalty system. As one of its primary goals, the project seeks to expand the pool of lawyers willing to serve as pro bono counsel for death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings by recruiting volunteer attorneys to handle capital cases and providing them with training and assistance. The project also educates the public and bar about the crisis of counsel and works toward reform of the systems that provide counsel to indigent defendants through its systemic litigation project.

Published: Fri, Sep 16, 2011