Wrongful executions to be examined at WUSTL law conference Nov. 17

Criminal cases in Missouri and Texas to fuel discussion

The Washington University School of Law’s Clinical Education Program and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies will host the sixth annual Access to Equal Justice conference from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom of Anheuser-Busch Hall on campus. The conference is free and open to faculty, students, staff and the public.

The conference will focus on “Examining the Risks of Wrongful Executions and the Role of Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Academia and the Press.”

U.S. Representative William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.), will deliver the morning keynote address at 9 a.m.

Afternoon keynote speakers are Barry Scheck, professor of law and co-director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University; and Roscoe C. Howard Jr., partner at Troutman Sanders LLP in Washington, D.C., former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and former professor of law at the University of Kansas. They will speak during the lunch session at 1 p.m.

Panelists from the legal profession, academia and the press will examine four criminal cases that many critics believe ended in the executions of innocent defendants.

• Cameron Willingham was convicted and executed in Texas in 2004 for the arson-murders of his three daughters. The death penalty was based on interpretations by fire investigators that have been scientifically disproved.

• Ruben Cantu was executed in Texas in 1993 for a murder that occurred when he was 17. During the years following the conviction, a surviving victim, the co-defendant, the district attorney and the jury forewoman made public statements that cast doubt on Cantu’s guilty verdict and death sentence.

• Larry Griffin was convicted in 1980 of the St. Louis murder of teenage drug dealer Quintin Moss and executed by the State of Missouri in 1995. The conviction has been criticized in that there was no evidence against Griffin, except the testimony of Robert Fitzgerald, a professional criminal in the federal witness protection program.

• Carlos DeLuna was executed in Texas in 1989 for stabbing to death Wanda Lopez in a robbery at a Corpus Christi gas station/convenience store six years earlier. Claims of unreliable eyewitness identification and inadequate representation raise serious concerns about his conviction and execution.

Karen Tokarz, professor of law and director of Clinical Education and Alternative Dispute Resolution at Washington University’s School of Law, says this conference will explore one of the country’s most significant criminal justice issues – the possibility that innocent defendants have been convicted and executed.

“These four cases underscore serious weaknesses in our criminal justice system that cannot be ignored,” Tokarz said. “They cry out for a more thorough examination of the death penalty and the process that leads up to it.”

The conference is co-sponsored by the WUSTL School of Law’s Clinical Education Program and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Saint Louis University School of Law.

While Washington University’s School of Law offers the conference as a community service, attendees must pre-register. The conference qualifies for 7 hours of minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) credit for lawyers and judges.

For more information, contact Beth Niehaus at 314-935-6419 or ekniehaus@wulaw.wustl.edu.