Past Keynote Speakers

2019

Larry Krasner || District Attorney of Philadelphia 

In 2017, Mr. Krasner made national headlines when he was elected as the city’s top prosecutor after running a campaign vowing to transform the city’s criminal justice system. A former public defender and civil rights attorney, Mr. Krasner represents a rising tide of progressive prosecutors committed to reducing reliance on incarceration. Mr. Krasner was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, to a father who wrote crime fiction and a mother who served as an Evangelical Christian preacher. He received his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his J.D. from Stanford Law School. After graduating law school, Mr. Krasner moved to Philadelphia to begin a job with the city’s federal public defender office. In 1993, Mr. Krasner opened his own law firm, where he defended clients such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter protestors, as well as death penalty opponents. Among the first changes Mr. Krasner introduced after taking office in 2018 were directives to assistant district attorneys to seek shorter sentences for marijuana and prostitution offenses and to end the practice of seeking cash bail for certain non-violent offenses. To further address the problem of mass incarceration, Mr. Krasner has announced plans to reduce lengthy probation and parole terms and to stop seeking punitive consequences for probation and parole violations. During his first 19 months in office, he has exonerated nine individuals that were in prison for crimes they did not commit. As an outspoken critic of the death penalty, Mr. Krasner has described the capital punishment system in Pennsylvania as racially biased, arbitrary, and discriminatory against the poor. In July 2019, his office took the unusual step of submitting a brief to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of a death-sentenced prisoner, asking the court to strike down the state’s death penalty as unconstitutional. In his brief to the court, he wrote “Pennsylvania’s capital punishment regime may very well reserve death sentences for those who receive the ‘worst’ (i.e., the most poorly funded and inadequately supported) representation.” Mr. Krasner’s work on the death penalty and other issues is at the forefront of a changing approach to crime and punishment spreading throughout the country, prioritizing due process over convictions and rehabilitation over incarceration. 

2018

Joseph Giarratano || Former Virginia Death Row Prisoner, University of Virginia School of Law Innocence Clinic

Mr. Giarratano was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1979 and spent nearly 40 years behind bars before being granted parole in 2017. During his four decades in prison, Mr. Giarratano’s individual case received widespread attention in the media and among political and religious figures, while he served as a powerful advocate for the right to counsel on behalf of others on death row.

In 1979, Mr. Giarratano was charged with two murders that occurred while he was in a drug-induced haze. Although Mr. Giarratano had no recollection of committing the crimes, he feared he was guilty and turned himself in. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death based on unreliable evidence after a bench trial that lasted only four hours, during which he was represented by counsel with minimal experience who earned a total of $625 for the representation. In 1991, after years of advocacy by pro bono attorneys for Mr. Giarratano, former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder commuted Mr. Giarratano’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole, based on a clemency petition that raised issues of actual innocence. Governor Wilder also recommended that Mr. Giarratano receive a new trial, but the state attorney general refused. Although Mr. Giarratano was denied parole nine times after he first became eligible, he was finally granted his freedom in November of 2017.  

The facts of Mr. Giarratano’s individual case and possible wrongful conviction are certainly extraordinary on their own, but possibly even more remarkable is his impact on the cases of fellow prisoners and on the law regarding access to counsel. In the mid-1980s, while still on death row, Mr. Giarratano filed a pro se Section 1983 civil rights class action on behalf of death-sentenced prisoners in Virginia who did not have representation for their state post-conviction proceedings, arguing that meaningful access to the court requires the appointment of counsel. Of urgent importance at the time was the approaching execution of Earl Washington, an intellectually disabled man with no lawyer to advocate on his behalf. Mr. Giarratano’s petition attracted the attention of pro bono counsel from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, who took over representation in the §1983 action and obtained a stay for Mr. Washington, nine days before his scheduled execution. Nearly a decade later, DNA testing would show that Mr. Washington was innocent of the crime for which he would have been executed, but for the efforts of Mr. Giarratano and the pro bono attorneys he found to assist.

In Mr. Giarratano’s 1990 clemency petition to Governor Wilder, one of those Paul Weiss lawyers wrote of Mr. Giarratano’s extraordinary actions:

"On July 3, 1985, the Circuit Court of Culpeper County set an execution date of September 5, 1985 for Earl Washington and denied a motion for appointment of counsel for habeas corpus proceedings. . . . Faced with this emergency, Joe did what no lawyer had been willing to do: he drafted a § 1983 class action complaint and on August 6, 1985, filed it, hoping to obtain a lawyer for Earl through this lawsuit.. . . This lawsuit was entirely a selfless act. Joe didn't need attorneys; he had them. He filed the lawsuit literally to save other people's lives and to vindicate a fundamental principle: what Virginia had been doing — trying to execute people without lawyers — was not right."

Mr. Giarratano’s §1983 action saved the life of an innocent man, and it also shaped the very law concerning access to representation in post-conviction proceedings. After winning in the federal district court, his case made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a three-justice plurality ultimately held that there is no constitutional right to the assistance of counsel in post-conviction proceedings. That decision, which still stands today, served as a rallying cry for the pro bono community to highlight the need for volunteer assistance in capital cases, and it has likewise shaped the Project’s mission for almost 30 years. 

Since being released on parole, Mr. Giarratano has settled in Charlottesville, Virginia and has begun working with the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project, where he researches and evaluates other cases in need of help, continuing his extraordinary commitment to helping those in need. We are deeply grateful for his decades of selfless advocacy for the right to counsel, and for his steadfast dedication to helping ensure fairness and due process for the most marginalized members of our society.

2017

Isaiah McCoy || Deleware Death Row Exoneree, Witness to Innocence

Mr. McCoy was sentenced to death in 2010 for a crime he did not commit. He won his freedom this past January through the dedicated efforts of pro bono counsel and capital defenders.

Mr. McCoy’s history is one of hardship and neglect. Abandoned by his parents at the age of seven, he took to the streets and joined a gang—the only type of support system available to him. Mr. McCoy has explained his actions as the only way he would have something to eat. “There was no question that I sold drugs, there’s no question that at one point I lived the life of a gangster, I have a criminal record that dates back to when I was nine.“ 

In 2010, Mr. McCoy was charged with the murder of James Munford. Mr. Munford was shot outside of a bowling alley in Dover, Delaware. Mr. McCoy was also accused and convicted of armed robbery, conspiracy, illegal use of a firearm, and theft of a vehicle. Mr. McCoy represented himself at trial and was subjected to repeated demeaning, disparaging, and insulting comments from the prosecuting attorney, many of them made in front of the jury. Although there was little evidence to support the prosecution’s case, the jury convicted Mr. McCoy of capital murder and sentenced him to death. 

In total, Mr. McCoy spent almost seven years behind bars. The last year and a half was spent in solitary confinement. 

In 2013, the Project recruited Erek Barron of Whiteford Taylor Preston to provide pro bono representation to Mr. McCoy in his direct appeal. Together with Herb Mondros of Margolis Edelstein, Mr. McCoy’s counsel won a resounding victory in the Delaware Supreme Court, which found that the prosecutor’s unprofessional conduct throughout the trial violated Mr. McCoy’s constitutional rights. The court reversed Mr. McCoy’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court also suspended the prosecutor from practice based on his misconduct at Mr. McCoy’s trial.

Mr. McCoy waived his right to a jury for his retrial, leaving the decision in the hands of Kent County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Young. In this second trial, where Mr. McCoy was represented by experienced capital defenders, defense counsel was able to present new evidence to the judge that established significant doubt about Mr. McCoy’s involvement in the crime. Judge Young noted that there was no physical evidence against Mr. McCoy and that two alleged accomplices had given contradictory testimony. One of the accomplices, Deshaun White, received a sentence reduction for testifying against Mr. McCoy. 

Isaiah McCoy was ultimately acquitted of all charges on January 19, 2017.

Mr. McCoy was the second former death row prisoner in a year to be released in Delaware after obtaining a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.

Since his acquittal, Mr. McCoy has resettled in Los Angeles and Hawaii, has been traveling around the country sharing his story, and hopes to attend law school to defend those who have similar experiences. 

 “I just want to say to all those out there going through the same thing I’m going through ‘keep faith, keep fighting.’ Two years ago, I was on death row. At 25, I was given a death sentence—and I am today alive and well and kicking and a free man.”

Mr. McCoy earned his GED in prison when he was 16. He will be awarded several honorary degrees for his life experiences which will help him attend law school.

Once in law school and working in the judicial system, Mr. McCoy plans to focus on youth—the stage in life where he believes positive guidance can change the outcome of an individual. He also hopes to assist in efforts to abolish the death penalty and end mass incarceration.  

2016

Sarah Totonchi || Executive Director for the Southern Center for Human Rights

 Ms. Totonchi is the Executive Director for the Southern Center for Human Rights (“Southern Center”). The Southern Center, a nonprofit law firm, provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty who would otherwise have no representation. The Southern Center also challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails, seeks through litigation and advocacy to improve legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, and advocates for criminal justice system reforms on behalf of those affected by the system in the southern United States. 

Ms. Totonchi was recognized as a “Top 40 Under 40” by Georgia Trend Magazine in 2010 and by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 2012. Atlanta Magazine named her in 2011 as one of the “Five of the Future” and in 2016 as one of ten “New Guard” leaders of Atlanta. Georgia Trend named her a “Notable Person” from 2012 through 2016. She is a past chairperson of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an advisor for the Georgia Chapter of the American Constitution Society, an advisor for Good Thinking Atlanta, an alumna of Leadership Atlanta (Class of 2012), a member of the Georgia State Bar’s Indigent Defense Committee, and she serves on the Steering Committee of the International Arab Women’s Solidarity Association.

Ms. Totonchi is particularly renowned for building unconventional relationships, for reaching out to former prosecutors or judges for support on specific issues, and for collaborating with attorneys from multiple disciplines to galvanize public support for the Southern Center’s litigation. She has established partnerships with unlikely allies such as law enforcement, survivors of crime, and conservative elected officials. She led the Southern Center in its challenge against state secrecy laws in Georgia that restrict information about lethal injection execution drugs and protocol. She has assisted with lawsuits against the state of Georgia regarding laws that criminalize poverty and perpetuate debtors’ prison practices. She has fought against and defeated numerous pieces of legislation that sought to lower the bar for the imposition of the death penalty in Georgia. For the last five years, she and the Southern Center have proactively passed criminal justice reforms that reduce mass incarceration. 

Ms. Totonchi is a committed advocate for the right to effective counsel for every person facing a death sentence. She has worked with many volunteer law firms to help them provide life-saving assistance to individuals on death row. When Ms. Totonchi first joined the Southern Center in 2001, she served as Policy Director. Her work was integral to the passage of the Georgia Indigent Defense Act, which established a public defender system in Georgia for the first time. As Executive Director, Ms. Totonchi continues to lead the organization’s efforts to protect the constitutional rights of people on death row and bring innovative challenges to systemic failures of the criminal justice system.

This past May, Ms. Totonchi and the Southern Center celebrated a victory in Foster v. Chatman before the United States Supreme Court. On behalf of Mr. Foster, the Southern Center team gathered a rare collection of evidence of racial animus that included the trial prosecutor’s notes and detailed evidence that the prosecution in Mr. Foster’s case had markedly set out to eliminate the possibility of any African-American jurors. The Southern Center also developed a winning amicus strategy by soliciting the support of unlikely allies. Ms. Totonchi and her team recruited 2016 Exceptional Service Award Winner Jenner & Block to work with former prosecutors and the Constitution Project to author an amicus brief in support of Mr. Foster, arguing that race discrimination in Mr. Foster’s case undermined the integrity of the entire criminal justice system. In a 7-1 decision, the Foster Court held that prosecutors had discriminated on the basis of race during jury selection in Mr. Foster’s trial. Foster v. Chatman is emblematic of the type of litigation that Ms. Totonchi’s office works on every day; the Southern Center has changed and saved the lives of countless other individuals and has helped create a more equitable system of criminal justice.

2015

Christina M. Tchen || Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady of the United States

The Project is honored to welcome Christina M. Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady of the United States, as the 2015 Keynote Speaker.

Ms. Tchen began her legal career at the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. There she specialized in litigation at the state and federal levels, representing clients in high profile cases involving everything from shareholder disputes to constitutional law. In addition to serving prominent clients in civil litigation and successfully arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court as a fourth-year associate, Ms. Tchen demonstrated an outstanding commitment to pro bono work, which included service as the chairwoman of the firm’s pro bono programs.

As a partner, Ms. Tchen helped lead a Skadden pro bono team representing Freddie Spicer,  a death row prisoner  in Mississippi who had received woefully inadequate representation at trial. Among other errors, trial counsel never presented evidence that Mr. Spicer had grown up in a household characterized by physical abuse, neglect, poverty, and substance abuse, and that he suffered from a major mental illness—mitigating evidence that could have helped convince the jury to spare his life. The Skadden team brought these errors to light through a post-conviction evidentiary hearing, obtaining reversal of his death sentence and eventually winning a life sentence at a new sentencing hearing. Ms. Tchen also worked on the cases of two death row prisoners in Illinois and had secured orders granting habeas relief for both at the time Governor Ryan commuted all Illinois death sentences.

After 23 years with Skadden, Ms. Tchen served as the Director of the Office of Public Engagement, the White House’s outreach office. In this position, Ms. Tchen’s work included engaging a wide array of organizations and the American public in dialogue with the White House. At the same time, President Obama selected Ms. Tchen to be the Executive Director of the newly formed White House Council on Women and Girls. The Council is responsible for advising the President on policies that are of special importance to women and girls. In this capacity, Ms. Tchen has coordinated with a variety of organizations and national departments to advocate on behalf of this group.

In 2011, Ms. Tchen left the Office of Public Engagement when Michelle Obama selected her to be her new Chief of Staff. The First Lady called Ms. Tchen a “natural choice,” citing her experience advocating for young women and her commitment to education and inclusion. As Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Ms. Tchen has supported veterans through the Joining Forces Initiative, worked to counteract childhood obesity nationwide, and helped adolescent girls across the world go to school through the Let Girls Learn project. She also continues to serve as the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

The Project thanks Ms. Tchen for steadfastly advocating for the most vulnerable among us. We are grateful for her inspiring dedication to public service.

2014

Debo P. Adegbile || Former Senior Counsel for the United States Senate Judiciary Committee

The Project is honored to welcome Debo P. Adegbile, former Senior Counsel for the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, as the 2014 Keynote Speaker.

Mr. Adegbile began his career as a successful litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifk ind, Wharton & Garrison in 1994. At Paul, Weiss he represented, among other clients, a death-sentenced prisoner before the United States Supreme Court and in connection with a clemency petition. Aft er seven years with Paul, Weiss, he joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), where, among other positions, he served as its acting president and director-counsel. During his 12 years at LDF, Mr. Adegbile litigated a broad range of civil rights cases and became a leading expert on voting rights. He argued twice before the United States Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, most recently in Shelby County v. Holder. In July 2013, he joined the staff  of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In recognition of his exemplary career, President Barack Obama nominated Mr. Adegbile on November 18, 2013, to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Unexpectedly, however, Mr. Adegbile was sharply criticized because of his involvement in the representation of death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mr. Adegbile served as LDF’s Director of Litigation when it successfully argued that Mr. Abu-Jamal, convicted and sentenced to death for killing a white police offi  cer in Philadelphia thirty years earlier, received an unconstitutional death sentence. Mr. Abu-Jamal was later resentenced to life without the possibility of parole with the approval of the sitting Philadelphia District Attorney and the assent of the victim’s widow, a result that angered local police. 

Th e Senate took up Mr. Adegbile’s nomination in March 2014, sparking a heated debate and intense opposition by the National Fraternal Order of Police, among other law enforcement organizations. Mr. Adegbile refused to renounce his work on Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. On March 5, 2014, the Senate, on a procedural vote, narrowly failed to approve Mr. Adegbile’s nomination. President Obama called this result “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualifi ed public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifi cations are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession.” Senator Tom Harkin described the Senate’s decision as “the lowest point that I think this Senate has descended into in my thirty years here.” And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also deplored the attacks on Mr. Adegbile as “an aff ront to what it means to live in America.”

Th e Project is grateful for this opportunity to commend Mr. Adegbile for his unwavering commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of even the most unpopular clients. His dedication is an inspiration to everyone who believes in the rule of law. 

2013

Damon Thibodeaux & Steven Z. Kaplan || LA Death Row Exoneree & Pro Bono Counsel at Fredrikson & Byron, PA

On September 28, 2012, after 15 years in solitary confinement on death row for a murder he did not commit, Damon Thibodeaux walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola a free man.

Damon’s story began on July 19, 1996, when his 14-year-old cousin left her family’s apartment to walk to a nearby supermarket. When she did not return home promptly, several neighbors, friends, and family members, including Damon, began searching for her throughout the night and into the next day. Tragically, she was found murdered about five miles from home on the night of July 20.  

Homicide detectives interviewed and interrogated a number of witnesses and suspects, including Damon. After some nine hours of intensive and coercive interrogation, the investigators obtained a false confession from a physically and emotionally exhausted Damon. Damon was indicted just four days later, even though his whereabouts during the time between his cousin’s disappearance and her latest time of death were accounted for, and even though the available physical and timeline evidence disproved every material aspect of his purported confession. After a trial that included improper tactics, false testimony, and an ineffective defense, a jury convicted him and sentenced him to death.

In 2000, the Project recruited Fredrikson & Byron, PA to take a death penalty case. Working with Denny LeBoeuf and Caroline Tillman at the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, Fredrikson put together a team that, by mid-2001, included Steve Kaplan, a business and tax litigation lawyer, and a host of other lawyers at the firm. Barry Scheck and Vanessa Potkin at the Innocence Project also joined the team, and together they retained private investigators,  world-class forensic experts, and DNA labs to reinvestigate the facts and analyze the evidence. As they did so, the evidence of Damon’s actual innocence continued to mount.

In mid-2007, members of the legal team met with the district attorney and laid out the case for Damon’s innocence in extensive detail for several hours. At the conclusion of that session, the district attorney agreed to reinvestigate the case, and over the course of the next five years, Damon’s lawyers and the district attorney’s office exchanged information and shared the costs of the additional DNA testing and forensic analysis. During this joint reinvestigation process, new evidence and leads were developed that further proved Damon’s innocence.

On September 28, Damon was finally freed and reunited with his mother, siblings, and the son whom he had not seen in 17 years. After a few days in New Orleans with his family digesting the reality of his freedom, Damon hopped into a rental car with Steve and together they drove back to Minneapolis where Damon would begin putting his life back together.  

Damon came to Minneapolis because of the relationships that he had developed with members of the Fredrikson firm. Steve and Pro Bono Manager Pam Wandzel spoke and corresponded with him frequently and sent him books, music, and other items that he needed. Their conversations were not confined strictly to the specifics of his case, but often included subjects such as his family, what he was reading, and what he saw going on in the outside world. Steve has noted that these conversations were as important to him as they were to Damon. As Steve has put it, “[I] derived great comfort and strength from Damon because I was able to understand that he was doing as well as a human being could possibly do under the circumstances.”  

Consequently, when it became apparent that Damon would be exonerated at some point, they considered his moving to Minneapolis where his legal team—long before then his close friends—could help him in the next phase of his life.   

After living with Steve and his wife for seven weeks, Damon secured his own apartment, quickly obtained his GED, and obtained employment with the company providing office services to the Fredrikson firm. On a daily basis, Steve, Pam, and others in the firm joyfully watch Damon develop new relationships, learn about the world from which he was absent for so long, and enjoy life.    

2012

Judge Rosemary Barkett || 11th Circuit Court of Appeals 

The Project is honored to welcome Judge Rosemary Barkett of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit as our keynote speaker for the 2012 Volunteer Recognition and Awards Event. Before her appointment to the 11th Circuit, Judge Barkett served on the Florida Supreme Court, where she was that court’s first-ever female chief justice.

Known for her life-long commitment to equal justice, Judge Barkett recently issued a powerful concurring opinion highlighting the vital importance of effective representation in death penalty cases and the unique problems faced by death-sentenced prisoners:

[T]he reality is that death row inmates’ access to competent, post-conviction legal representation is at best inconsistent and at worst non-existent and their ability to communicate freely and actively participate in their litigation is seriously compromised. Under this reality, I question whether strict adherence to the principle that a death row inmate must bear the consequences of his lawyer’s negligence is fair or just.

Judge Barkett has earned dozens of prestigious honors throughout her career, including being named a “Legal Legend” by the 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society. She was also awarded the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award presented by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, the Latin Business and Professional Women Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Judicial Achievement Award for her efforts in protecting the rights of the individual. She is a member of numerous professional associations, boards, and committees, including the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI) board, and she is Chair of ROLI’s Middle East Initiative.

2011

Anthony Graves || Texas Death Row Exoneree, Texas Defender Service Mitigation Specialist

After 18 years of proclaiming his innocence, Anthony Graves was released from prison on October 27, 2010. In 1992, Anthony was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for a gruesome crime he did not commit:  the murders of a grandmother, her daughter, and her four grandchildren. The primary witness at Anthony’s trial was Robert Earl Carter, the father of one of the young victims. Carter had already confessed to taking part in the crime but testified that Anthony was primarily responsible. Anthony’s girlfriend planned to testify to his alibi until the prosecutor announced in court that she was also a suspect and could be indicted. Afraid of the consequences, she refused to testify.

After Anthony was convicted, Carter recanted his testimony and stated under oath that he was solely responsible for the deaths and had lied about Anthony’s involvement. Anthony was unable to benefit from this admission, however, because his court-appointed counsel failed to present evidence of the recantation to the appeals court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his state court petition and determined that although he had a right to an attorney, he did not necessarily have a right to one who performed well. This prompted a strong dissent that stated, “competent counsel ought to require more than a human being with a law license and a pulse.”

A remarkable breakthrough occurred when the district attorney who prosecuted Anthony admitted to Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera on camera that Carter had confessed sole responsibility for the crimes before falsely testifying in Anthony’s trial—an admission withheld from Anthony’s trial attorneys.

This new information allowed Anthony’s counsel to raise a Brady claim, which ultimately convinced the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn his conviction and order a new trial. After investigating the case for five months, and prompted by Nicole Casarez and the other members of Anthony’s legal team, the specially assigned prosecutor filed a motion to drop the charges, concluding no evidence connected Anthony to the crime and that he was innocent. After twelve years on death row and another six years in prison, Anthony was finally free to go home to his family.

2010

Ray Krone || Arizona Death Row Exoneree

Ray Krone grew up near York, Pennsylvania, with a loving family and many friends.  A former Boy Scout and high school athlete, he became an Air Force sergeant and later a mail carrier before finding himself on Arizona’s death row for a murder he did not commit. 

His world was turned upside down in 1991 when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar where Ray was an occasional customer.  Ray refused to believe that our legal system would convict him.  He told his parents not to worry.  

But Ray was convicted.  The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth.  In 1992, he was sentenced to death. 

Ray won a new trial on appeal in 1996, but was convicted again, mainly on the state’s supposed expert bite-mark testimony.  This time, however, the judge sentenced him to life in prison, citing doubts about whether or not Ray was the true killer.  

It was not until 2002, after Ray had served more than ten years in prison, that DNA testing would prove his innocence.  DNA testing conducted on the saliva and blood found on the victim excluded Ray as the source.  When prosecutors dropped the charges that April, Ray became the 100th person exonerated from death row in the U.S. 

“People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty... I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial.”   --Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (April 9, 2001) 

2009

Stephen B. Bright || Southern Center for Human Rights

Stephen B. Bright is one of the country’s leading human rights advocates and attorneys.  He is president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based public interest project that provides legal representation to individuals facing the death penalty and to prisoners challenging unconstitutional conditions throughout the South.   

Mr. Bright is an expert on the criminal justice and prison systems and has represented Death Row inmates at trial, on appeal, and in post-conviction proceedings since 1979.   In addition, he has written essays and articles on the right to counsel, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, judicial independence, and other topics that have appeared in scholarly publications, books, magazines and newspapers; and testified before committees of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  A prolific scholar, Mr. Bright currently teaches part-time at Georgetown and Yale Law Schools.   

His work and the work of the Southern Center for Human Rights have been the subject of the documentary film Fighting for Life in the Death Belt (2005), as well as two books, Proximity to Death by William McFeely (1999) and Finding Life on Death Row by Kayta Lezin (1999). The Fulton County Daily Report named Mr. Bright “Newsmaker of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia.  He received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998 and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.  We are delighted that he will be our keynote speaker at this year’s event. 

2008

Anthony G. Amsterdam || NYU Law School Professor & Civil Rights Lawyer

After graduating from the University of  Pennsylvania Law School in 1960, Anthony  Amsterdam clerked for Justice Felix Frankfurter and then served as an Assistant United States  Attorney in the District of Columbia. In 1962, he took his first teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania. He moved to Stanford in 1969, where he later was named the Montgomery Professor of Clinical Legal Education, the first  endowed clinical chair in American legal education. 

In 1981, he came to New York University School of Law to serve as Director of Clinical and Advocacy Programs. Amsterdam has served on the ABA Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession (The MacCrate Task Force), chairing its  committee to prepare the "Statement of Fundamental Lawyering Skills and  Professional Values." In 1975 he won Stanford's Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 1989 he received New York University's Great Teacher Award. 

Throughout his career Amsterdam has engaged in an extensive pro bono practice. Serving a wide  variety of civil rights, legal aid, and public  defender organizations, he has appeared in small-town courtrooms, the kitchens of rural Justices of the Peace, and the Supreme Court of the United States.  In Furman v. Georgia, he persuaded the Court that the death penalty was unconstitutional. He has litigated cases ranging from death penalty defense to claims of access to the courts for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; claims of free speech, free press, and freedom of NEA grantees from censorship; and claims of privacy and equality of opportunity for racial minorities and poor people. 

Amsterdam, the author of dozens of books and articles, is also one of the most influential legal scholars of his generation.  He is credited with writing the article that initially conceptualized the first amendment doctrine of overbreadth, and his treatise on criminal defense is the definitive work in the field.  

2007

William H. Neukom || President, American Bar Association

William H. Neukom, a partner in the Seattle office of K&L Gates, is president of the American Bar Association. His one-year term began in August 2007 at the adjournment of the association’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco. 

Neukom previously held the position of executive vice president of Law and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, where he spent 17 years managing the company's legal, government affairs and philanthropic activities. Under Neukom’s direction, Microsoft's community affairs program initiated a number of key corporate giving strategies, including the Microsoft Giving Campaign, the Microsoft Matching Gifts program, and the Microsoft Volunteer Program. Before joining Microsoft, Neukom was a partner of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, where he had a general practice with emphasis on litigation, commercial law and nonprofit organizations. 

Neukom has been active in organized bar work, serving as chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Seattle–King County Bar Association and in the same capacity with the American Bar Association. Neukom also served on the ABA Board of Governors as secretary of the ABA and as Washington State Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates. He has chaired the ABA Fund for Justice and Education; the ABA Task Force on Goal VIII, which examined the association’s rule of law programming; and the ABA Governance Commission, as well as serving as a trustee of the National Judicial College. 

Also active in community work, Neukom has served as a member of the Dartmouth College Board of Trustees, the University of Puget Sound Board of Trustees, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees, the Gates Challenge Endowment Campaign of the United Way of King County and the YMCA of Greater Seattle Board of Directors. He currently chairs the Pacific Council on International Policy and the Policy Consensus Center and is a board member of the Dean’s Council at Stanford Law School. Neukom is also general partner in San Francisco Baseball Associates, L.P., the ownership group of the San Francisco Giants. 

Neukom earned his LL.B. from Stanford University in 1967 and received his A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1964. His primary initiative as president is the World Justice Project. 

Robert Warden || Executive Director, Center on Wrongful Convictions

Executive Director Rob Warden is an award winning legal affairs journalist who, as editor and publisher of Chicago Lawyer magazine during the 1980's, exposed multiple wrongful con-victions in Illinois, including cases in which six innocent men had been sentenced to death.  In addition, Mr. Warden is the author or co-author of hundreds of articles and six books, including two books about wrongful convictions written in collaboration with Northwestern University Journalism Professor David Protess - A Promise of Justice- (Hyperion, 1998) and Gone in the Night (Delacorte, 1993). 

Mr. Warden has won more than 50 journalism awards, including the Medill School of Jour-nalism’s John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, two American Civil Liberties Union James McGuire Awards, five Peter Lisagor Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Norval Morris Award from the Illinois Academy of Crimi-nology. In 2004, he was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. 

Gary A. Gauger || Illinois Death Row Exoneree

Gary Gauger was indicted on May 5, 1993 on two counts of murder, one for each of his par-ents, Ruth and Morris Gauger. After the jury found Gary guilty on both counts, he was sen-tenced to death by Judge Henry L. Cowlin on January 11, 1994. Gary was sentenced to death based mostly on statements he allegedly made during an interrogation that authorities claimed amounted to a confession. On March 8, 1996, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial on the ground that Judge Cowlin failed to grant a motion to suppress the allegedly inculpatory statements Gary made. The court held that the statements were the result of an arrest made without probable cause and were, therefore, impermissible in court.  As a result, Gary was finally set free. Randall E. Miller, a member of a motorcycle gang known as the Outlaws, was later charged with the murder of Ruth and Morris Gauger. Gary’s case is profiled in Jensen & Jessica Blank’s play, “The Exon-erated.”  

2006

Wilbert Rideau || Former Louisiana Death Row Prisoner

In 1961, Wilbert Rideau was sentenced to death at age nineteen by an all-white, all-male jury in a trial called “kangaroo court proceedings” by the United States Supreme Court, which threw out the conviction.  All-white male juries twice again sentenced him to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment in 1973 following Furman v. Georgia.   

In 1976, he became editor of The Angolite, the prisoner-produced news-magazine of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  Over the next quarter century, he won many of American journalism’s highest awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award for his outstanding contributions to public understanding of the criminal justice and prison systems.  In 1979, he was the first prisoner ever to re-ceive the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award for “Conversations with the Death,” an investi-gative exposé that resulted in the release of a number of long-term inmates “lost” in the Louisiana prison system.  In 1996, he became the only prisoner ever to receive the Louisiana Bar Association’s highest journalistic honors for a documentary he co-produced, The Execution of Antonio James.  In 1998, he co-directed a documentary, The Farm: Angola, USA, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was nomi-nated for an Academy Award.  He is the co-editor of The Wall Is Strong: Corrections in Louisiana, a textbook now in its fourth edition, and Life  Sentences, an anthology of articles from The Angolite.  

In 2000, Wilbert Rideau won a new trial because of the systematic exclu-sion of blacks from the grand jury in 1961.  On January 15, 2005, a racially-mixed jury convicted him of manslaughter, a crime for which he had already served 23 years more than the maximum sentence.  He was released immediately. Three months later, the judge that had declared Wilbert Rideau indigent at trial ordered him to pay $127,000 in court costs.  His pro bono attorneys are now appealing the order.