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March 01, 2009

Project Hosts Section of Litigation Death Penalty Program

On January 10, 2009 at the ABA Section of Litigation Winter Leadership Meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Project hosted “The ABA’s Role in Changing Capital Representation.”  Over 200 people heard featured speakers including former Louisiana Death Row prisoner Wilbert Rideau, volunteer attorney Larry A. Hammond of Osborn Maledon P.A., and Arizona Supreme Court Justice W. Scott Bales.

The participants were welcomed by ABA President H. Thomas Wells, Jr., whose law firm Maynard Cooper & Gale, PC, provides local counsel to volunteer law firms working on death penalty cases in Alabama.  Justice Bales opened the program with a discussion of the ABA’s involvement in reforming Arizona capital representation through the adoption by court rule of the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.  He encouraged the continued assistance of the ABA.  Mr. Hammond then spoke movingly about the resource problem for state Death Row appeals and the difference that volunteer death penalty attorneys have made for Arizona prisoners.

Finally, Mr. Rideau told his compelling story of the racism he faced when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1961 at the age of 19, after being represented by two real estate attorneys.  After 44 years in prison, he was finally set free in 2001 through the assistance of volunteer attorneys.  He now works with Death Row prisoners around the country and is finishing a book that will be published in the coming months.


“I have been to many Section of Litigation programs over the years but I have never seen a room of 225 people as intensely riveted on a speaker as they were during Wilbert Rideau's presentation.  It was stunning, with the silence broken only by an occasional sniffle, and hardly a dry eye in the house.  Wilbert's comments drove home to all of us, in palpable terms, the critical importance of competent representation as an indispensable element of a fair trial.”

Robert L. Rothman, Arnall Golden Gregory LLP

ABA Section of Litigation Chair & Volunteer Attorney