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The British are coming. So are the Australians. And several from the Netherlands. And others from as far away as Nigeria. Last year there were more than 75 British and other foreign interns — mainly law students or recent graduates — who paid their way to the United States to work with capital defenders on death penalty cases. The organizations facilitating the exchanges expect to send even more this year. “It’s growing in popularity because of the press coverage internationally, as well as in the U.K., about capital punishment in the U.S.,” says Sophie Gardner, the intern director at Amicus, one of two English charities and two universities that are the principal organizations sending the interns. “Lots of lawyers want to work on human rights-related cases, and that includes capital punishment.” U.S. lawyers working on death penalty cases say they welcome the extra help. “We’re just extremely grateful. It has made a difference in our ability to represent more people and do a better job for those we represent,” says Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. “There are a lot of people who have desperate needs, and the groups trying to respond are overextended.” The interns, many of whom have worked second jobs or borrowed money to pay for their stays in the United States, say the experience is one that has changed their lives. “I’ve always been opposed on principle to the death penalty. I think it’s barbaric. But what I found so compelling as soon as I got here was how terrible the system is,” says Caroline Wallace, who started an internship in August 1998. It was supposed to be three months long. However, she extended it for a year by taking out loans. “The standards of representation are horrendously low. The prosecutors are wholly unethical, as well as the police … . It made me want to join the fight.” After her internship, Wallace returned to London, where she completed a two-year apprenticeship with Simmons & Simmons and qualified to practice. But she’s returned to New Orleans to work with Denise LeBouef, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project. The organization has funded her position as a paralegal for 18 months because of her work during her internship. HOW IT WORKS The death penalty isn’t used in England or Western Europe. Many Europeans, European governments, organizations and individuals call the U.S. system unfair, racist and a violation of human rights enshrined in treaties to which the United States is a signatory. At the end of last November, the British government awarded the Amicus group nearly �200,000 (currently about $284,500 USD) for interns for three years. The interns will do research on the differing policies of U.S. states toward executions of minors and mentally retarded defendants and determine if the state courts have considered objections based on international law grounds. A British official speaking on behalf of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which made the grant, says England has a policy to combat the death penalty worldwide and the grant was a “low-key way of furthering this interest.” While some volunteers find their own way to America to work for defense lawyers, most have come through four main organizations — Amicus, Reprieve, the School of Law at the University of Central England in Birmingham and the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies at the School of Law, University of Westminster. The organizations differ in the kinds of legal training interns have and in their attitude toward capital punishment. Julian Killingley, a senior law lecturer at the University of Central England, sent 43 interns to the United States last year. Killingley, who is an opponent of the death penalty, notes that the university is banned from campaigning on the issue and not all interns go to death penalty offices. He says his students’ motivation for doing an internship is often guided by the opportunity to get more of a “hands on” experience than they would in the English equivalent apprenticeship. “Most of the students go out partly because it’s an adventure, partly because it’s a good learning experience,” he says. Reprieve, a charity similar to Amicus that sent 15 volunteers last year from England and Australia, is much more focused. “We don’t take people who in any way regard it as a social experience,” says Chris Eades, who is from Britain and works at the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans and interviews potential Reprieve interns. “People have to be utterly committed to the abolition of the death penalty.” While volunteers through Reprieve must be politically committed, they don’t have to have any legal training. By comparison, Killingley’s students not only are pursuing their undergraduate three-year legal training, but they’ve studied U.S. constitutional law as well. Defense lawyers seem content to take the free help no matter what the interns’ background. “We’re stretched real thin. We don’t have the resources,” says LeBouef. “All these young people could be traveling through France. They could do a lot of other things than finance a trip to do unglamorous work.” The organizations sending interns often caution them that their work can be fairly menial — photocopying and other low-level administrative support. Typical is Joanna Bragg, an intern at New Orleans’ Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a death penalty defense shop started by Clive Stafford-Smith. A British citizen, Stafford-Smith has been an outspoken critic of the death penalty and a fierce advocate for Louisiana death row inmates. Bragg, 22, arrived at the end of January for a three-month term through Reprieve. So far, she’s taken notes while an experienced investigator interviewed jurors in death row inmate Leslie Martin’s case. She’s also waded through documents recently released by prosecutors in search of evidence that wasn’t disclosed at trial and worked on a family tree to help track mitigating factors in a client’s case. Wallace, 26, hopes to take the Louisiana bar and stay in the United States. She credits her internship with the change of her professional plans. When she first arrived, she investigated forensic evidence related to blood splatter patterns in the case of Dobie Williams, who was executed in 1999. Interns say that despite the sometimes upsetting details of the crimes, the experience affirms or strengthens their opposition to the death penalty. For example, Piya Muquit, an Amicus intern from Edinburgh, Scotland, says that prior to her internship, she was not morally opposed to the death penalty because her Muslim faith permits it. Working with LeBouef changed that. “Meeting the clients and doing the work — seeing that the system is failing,” she says, changed her perspective. A LEARNING EXPERIENCE Some defense lawyers, like LeBouef and her former partner, Nick Trentacosta, who runs the Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans, say they make sure their interns get a learning experience. And many interns do more substantial legal work, like researching cases on Westlaw, interviewing jurors and witnesses and investigating medical histories and family histories. While defense lawyers generally can’t point to a case where an intern has turned up a smoking gun piece of evidence that wins a case, they do say that their work is critical to the outcome of the cases. LeBouef says that Muquit, who worked with the Capital Post-Conviction Project last fall for six months, turned up important evidence in the case of Damon Thibodeaux, who was convicted of raping and killing his stepcousin. “She took an important statement in prison from a witness who knew the victim and may be able to help prove that Damon didn’t do the murder,” LeBouef says. The influence of the British interns has sometimes brought important new legal theories to death penalty lawyers. Greg Wiercioch, an attorney at the Texas Defender Service in Austin, Texas, says that Hugh Southey, a former intern who had five years’ experience as a barrister, helped raise important international law claims in the case of Juan Garza. Southey successfully argued to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that Garza’s right to a fair trial was violated because the prosecution introduced adjudicated offenses that prejudiced the case. Wiercioch says that it’s the only case in which someone facing execution had a decision from an international tribunal. He thinks it made a difference. “We were able to go back into the federal courts a second time, which is harder than getting a camel through the eye of the needle,” says Wiercioch. Ultimately, the lawyers weren’t successful. Garza was executed last June. But because of Southey’s experience with the Garza case, he was asked to work on the case of Georgia death row inmate and British national Tracy Housel. How do prosecutors feel about the British invasion? John Sinquefield, first assistant district attorney in East Baton Rouge, La., says that his office has had 23 capital cases in the past 11 years. He’s noticed British and German people on the periphery of his cases, and he doesn’t like it. “These people are over here on feel-good missions but they don’t have the moral authority to be,” he says. He points to British involvement in colonial wars in India and Germany’s responsibility for the Nazi Holocaust. “They have blood on their hands and they’re over here trying to expiate the prior sins of their cultures,” he says. But Timothy McElroy, first assistant district attorney in New Orleans, says he’s aware of the numbers of foreigners working with defense lawyers but has no objections. Defense lawyers and interns say that jurors, witnesses and clients have expressed an interest in their involvement but little hostility. Bright says a foreign accent can actually be an advantage: “We tend to point out that outside assistance to say, ‘We are out of step with the rest of the world.’ “ Trentacosta suggests that the moral leverage that foreigners bring has a historical antecedent. Before Americans abolished slavery, “A lot of English people began lending their voice and funding to efforts to end slavery here,” he says. “I look at this in a similar way.”

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