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Sunday, March 9, 2008

CrimProf Sheri Lynn Johnson Speaks during Death Penalty Awareness Week

S_johnson In January, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Baze v. Rees, a landmark case considering whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment.

While activist student lawyers across the country wait for this important verdict, they are working to draw attention to death penalty issues. Cornell Law student members of the National Lawyers Guild held a Death Penalty Awareness Week from March 3 through 5, sponsored in part by the Cornell Law Students’ Association and Cornell’s G.P.S.A.F.C.

“At Cornell, students do not even have to wait until they graduate to begin working against the death penalty,” says Ginger McCall ’09, president of the Cornell National Lawyers Guild. She notes that students can do significant work on Cornell’s Death Penalty Project, co-led by law professors John H. Blume and Sheri Lynn Johnson. “Law students are uniquely situated to create change in this area,” she continues. “Students can enact change by raising awareness and educating voters, who will, in turn, influence legislative decisions regarding the death penalty.”

Cornell CrimProf Sheri Lynn Johnson began the week with a lecture about capital punishment on Monday, March 3. In her talk, she examined issues of innocence, race, and mental illness. A second speaker was Muna Ndulo, professor of law and director of Cornell’s Institute for African Development, who spoke about capital punishment from an international perspective.

Later in the week Christopher Seeds, visiting fellow with the Cornell Death Penalty Project, addressed the current moratorium on the death penalty in New York State. After Mr. Seeds’s talk, Deadline, a film about the decision of former Illinois Governor George Ryan to commute the sentences of all Illinois death row inmates, was shown and resulted in some spirited discussion among the students. [Mark Godsey]

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