On September 24th, the Project celebrated the work of its volunteer attorneys and capital defender partners at the virtual 2020 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Program. The honorees included Exceptional Service Award winners DLA Piper and Dorsey & Whitney, and Meghan VerGow, partner at O'Melveny & Myers, who received the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award.
Despite having to move the program to a virtual format, the event was incredibly moving and conveyed the same sense of gravity and profound gratitude felt in prior years. The program featured special guests Richard Schiff, Alfre Woodard, and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, with a keynote address from death row exoneree Sabrina Butler Smith.
Death Row Exoneree Sabrina Butler-Smith
Sabrina Butler-Smith was a Mississippi teenager when she was convicted of killing 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.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley
In 2019, Congresswoman 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.
ABA President Trish Refo
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.
With special performance by slam poet Meaca Moore