WFU Law school students to host death penalty symposium

An innocent Winston-Salem man whose death sentence was recently overturned and a rape survivor whose testimony sent the wrong man to death row will speak Sunday, Oct. 8, during a Death Penalty Symposium at Wake Forest University.

The public is invited to attend this free event from 6-7:30 p.m. in Room 1312 of the Worrell Professional Center. Sponsors include the Association Against the Death Penalty, a new student group at Wake Forest; the Public Interest Law Organization; the Black Law Student Association; Phi Alpha Delta, a law school fraternity; and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Raleigh.

“With this being an election year, we want to bring the death penalty further into the public eye, ” said Alex MacClenahan, a second-year law student at Wake Forest and president of the Association Against the Death Penalty.

At the symposium, Alfred Rivera of Winston-Salem will speak about how he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. His sentence was reversed by the North Carolina Supreme Court on appeal, and he was found not guilty in 1999 when his case was re-tried.

Jennifer Thompson will speak about her work in advocating against the death penalty. Her eyewitness testimony led to the wrongful conviction of her rapist. That man was sentenced to life in prison, the most severe sentence for rape in the late 1980s.

He was eventually cleared of the crime in 1995 when DNA tests that were unavailable in the 1980s exonerated him.

Thompson has campaigned against the death penalty since 1995 because she believes the man she wrongfully accused would no longer be alive if the death penalty had been an available sentence for rape as it is now. She has been profiled in People magazine and is the subject of an in-depth profile available now from the Associated Press.

Jim Coleman, a professor at Duke University, will also speak about why he is involved in the American Bar Association’s Call for a Moratorium (on the death penalty.)

Stephen B. Bright, an attorney and director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, will speak about his experiences in working with people who are sentenced to death. The Southern Center is a public interest legal project based in Atlanta that provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, and to prisoners who challenge what they believe to be unconstitutional conditions in prisons and jails.

MacClenahan said the event is also designed to help law students understand the complexities of the death penalty before they become attorneys.

For more information, call MacClenahan at 336-765-8697.

Categories: Events, School of Law, Speakers, University Announcement