On September 24th, the Project celebrated the work of its volunteer attorneys and capital defender partners at the virtual 2020 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Program.
Sabrina Butler-Smith was a Mississippi teenager when she was convicted of murdering her nine-month-old son, Walter, and sentenced to death. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing after new counsel uncovered her son had had a rare chronic disease that caused his tragic death. She is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts’s 7th District introduced H.R. 4052 to abolish the federal death penalty and H.R. 702, a resolution to "transform the U.S. criminal legal system.” Rep. Pressley’s leadership on these issues reflects her awareness of such issues as racial disparities in death penalty sentencing and inadequate resources devoted to death penalty representation.
Patricia Lee Refo is president of the American Bar Association and a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, Arizona. She was previously named to the National Law Journal’s list of The 50 Most Influential Women Lawyers in America.
Richard Schiff is an Emmy Award-winning actor and director who recently starred as defense attorney Marty Lumetta in Clemency, a cerebral film directed by Chinonye Chukwu that explores the emotional toll that the death penalty takes on all of those who are affected by it.
Alfre Woodard is a four-time Emmy Award-winning actor, producer, and political activist who recently starred as death row prison warden Bernadine Williams in the film Clemency. Ms. Woodard’s masterful portrayal of the warden provides a unique and seldomly discussed perspective to the conversation on capital punishment.
Shameaca Moore is an talented writer, public speaker, and musical artist who has placed first in the Individual Poet category at the Rustbelt Regional Slam . The focus of her work is hope, mercy and self-reflection in a world that often lacks all three.
Exceptional Service Award
Every fall, the Project celebrates volunteer lawyers at its Volunteer Recognition & Awards Dinner. Pro bono firms are nominated by their colleagues for exceptional service to death row prisoners and honored with the Exceptional Service Award.
This year's Exceptional Service awards will be presented to two outstanding volunteer law firms, DLA Piper and Dorsey & Whitney.
DLA PIPER has been involved with pro bono death penalty work for decades, representing death row prisoners in their individual cases in five states. The firm has also taken on a significant number of amicus briefs, clemency petitions, lethal injection matters, and other research projects to support capital defenders.
DORSEY & WHITNEY has taken on pro bono capital cases for nearly 40 years. Beginning with Ernest Busby in 1985, whose sentence was reduced to life in prison, to Bruce Webster, who was found to be intellectually disabled by a federal district court in 2019, Dorsey lawyers and staff have fought tirelessly for the lives of their clients.
John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award
The Project also recognizes the extraordinary efforts of individual lawyers with the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award, which was first presented to Justice Stevens in 2011.
This year's Guiding Hand of Counsel Award will be presented to Meaghan VerGow of O'Melveny & Myers.
MEAGHAN VERGOW is a partner at the law firm O'Melveny & Myers who has long been deeply committed to capital punishment work. Her efforts have broken new ground, including a case that culminated in a rare unanimous victory at the U.S. Supreme Court and that has helped ensure due process for countless other death row prisoners.
Read more about the awards and learn about past award recipients here.
Look Back: 2019 Volunteer Awards Dinner