Death penalty experts to debate at Vanderbilt Law School

Nov 4, 2009

A death penalty debate between two leading scholars on capital punishment is set for noon November 9 in Vanderbilt Law School’s Flynn Auditorium. The debate takes place on the eve of the scheduled November 10 execution date for John Allen Muhammad, mastermind of the 2002 sniper attacks in Washington D.C. that left 10 dead.

Conducted in Oxford style, audience members will choose the debate’s winner by exiting through a door designated with the name of the debater they believe presented the best argument.

Debating are Ken Haas, professor of sociology and criminal justice from the University of Delaware, and District Attorney Joshua Marquis of Clatsop County, Ore. Law Professor Christopher Slobogin, an expert in criminal procedure, mental health law and evidence law, will moderate.

Haas, who will advocate the view that the death penalty should be abolished, holds a joint appointment at the University of Delaware as professor of sociology and criminal justice and professor of political science and international relations. He is the editor of Challenging Capital Punishment: Legal and Social Science Approaches (Sage Publications, 1988) and The Dilemmas of Corrections: Multidisciplinary Approaches (Waveland Press, 2006). His widely published scholarly work has been cited in books and journal articles and by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the other side of the debate is Joshua Marquis, who has served as district attorney of Clatsop County since 1994 and is a member of the board of directors of the National District Attorneys Association. He has worked as a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles, speechwriter to California’s attorney general, and in his 18 months as a criminal defense lawyer, represented three defendants in capital murder cases. Marquis is a frequent guest on national radio and television programs, where he has discussed the criminal justice system and the legitimacy of the death penalty.

Moderate Christopher Slobogin, who is the Milton Underwood Professor of Law at Vanderbilt, chaired a task force that investigated Florida’s death penalty system, where more than 20 people have been released from death row as a result of court rulings or dismissal of charges.

Slobogin recently appeared on NBC’s Today show to discuss the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, who was John Allen Muhammad’s teenage accomplice and is now serving a life sentence in prison. Mohammad and Malvo went on a three-week killing spree in October 2002 that left 10 people dead in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and they were suspected in killings in other states. Muhammad is slated for execution November 10 in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas, Virginia, gas station.

The debate is sponsored by the Law School’s Hyatt Fund and Law Students for Social Justice.  The event, which starts at noon in the law school’s Flynn Auditorium, is free and open to the public.

– Jennifer Johnson, Vanderbilt University Public Affairs

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