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Death Penalty and Clemency Focus of W&L Law Review Symposium

The annual Lara D. Gass Symposium at the Washington and Lee University School of Law will focus this year on the controversial case of Joseph M. Giarratano, using his story to explore the ethical, legal and public policy issues surrounding the use of the death penalty.

The event is scheduled for Feb. 5-6 in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall on the campus of Washington and Lee University. Except for the evening keynote dinner, which is by invitation only, the symposium proceedings are free and open to the public.

Giarratano was convicted of murder in 1979, but after his story drew national and international attention raising questions about his guilt, his death sentence was commuted to life by then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder in 1991. However, then-Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry denied a new trial for Giarratano. You can read more about Giarratano in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch story covering his case and the symposium.

According to event organizers, Giarratano’s case raises several issues about death penalty decisions, including ineffective assistance of counsel, clemency, post-conviction relief, actual innocence, prison conditions, race and gender and the use of the death penalty on those with mental illness or intellectual disability.

Panels on Feb. 5 will cover rights and remedies available when a death row inmate’s lawyer did not perform up to constitutionally acceptable standards; capital punishment and actual innocence; and life on death row.

Panels on Feb. 6 will cover executive powers over sentencing; death penalty advocacy; race and gender’s impact in capital sentencing; and the use of capital punishment on people with mental illness or intellectual disability.

Speakers include Gerald T. Zerkin, one of Giarratano’s lawyers; Deidre Enright with the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law; David Bruck, prominent capital defense attorney and professor at W&L Law; Richard Bonnie, professor of medicine and law at the University of Virginia School of law; and Jonathan Shapiro, prominent capital defense attorney and visiting professor at W&L Law.

The invitation-only keynote address and dinner will feature introductory remarks by Mike Farrell, an actor, longtime Giarratano supporter and death penalty activist. The keynote address will be delivered by Robin Konrad, Assistant Federal Public Defender from the Capital Habeas Unit. Konrad represents prisoners who are seeking habeas corpus relief from their state and federal convictions and death sentences. Most recently, she represented the petitioners in their lethal-injection challenge in Glossip v. Gross, 125 S. Ct. 2726 (2015), before the United States Supreme Court.

A full schedule and registration information is available online. For questions about the event, contact Christina Tacoronti ‘16L at tacoronti.c@law.wlu.edu.

The Lara D. Gass Symposium is named in honor of Lara Gass, a member of the Law Class of 2014 who passed away in an automobile accident in March of 2014.Gass served as Symposium Editor for the Washington and Lee Law Review, organizing the Law Review’s 2014 symposium focused on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Lara was active within the Women Law Students Organization and also served as a Kirgis Fellow, the law school’s peer mentoring group, during the 2012–2103 academic year. In January 2014, Lara received recognition for her academic achievements, her leadership abilities, her service to the law school and university community, and her character when she was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society.

Organized and hosted by the W&L Law Review, this event is sponsored by the Dean’s Office, Washington and Lee University School of Law; the Frances Lewis Law Center, Washington and Lee University School of Law; the Class of 1963, Washington and Lee University and the Mudd Center for Ethics, Washington and Lee University.