Casual Converstations: John Mathias and death penalty cases

Our next casual conversation on Zoom, the fifth in the continuing series, will be led by our classmate and immediate past Class president, John Mathias.  (The first four were hosted by Tex Talmadge, Peter Elias, Arnie Resnicoff, and Dave Agan.)  John’s conversation will be held on Sunday, October 18 at 4 pm Eastern.  (Note the change in time from prior sessions.)   John’s topic is discussed by him below.  If you want to participate please let either Arthur or John know by close of business Friday, October 16.

Over the course of my 48-year career as a litigator and trial lawyer, I have dedicated a considerable amount of pro bono time and effort to death penalty cases, principally because I have always been inalterably opposed to the death penalty, but also because our adversary system of justice only works if all participants are fairly represented.  Whereas it’s not all that difficult to find capable lawyers willing to provide pro bono representation to defendants they believe to have been wrongfully charged or innocent in some respect, the volunteer ranks thin out considerably where guilt is not in question—only the severity of the punishment to be meted out at sentencing.

I have handled five death penalty cases over the years, and I’m happy to say that all five of my clients remain alive today.  Three are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, one is free after serving a 10 year sentence for a lesser crime than the horrific one originally charged, and one was acquitted of all charges by the trial judge.

I have also served a three year term as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project Steering Committee.  Our mission was to find qualified counsel willing to take on the representation of death row prisoners in what often amounted to their last appellate opportunity before execution.  I was also part of a group instrumental in persuading then Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn to support legislation abolishing the death penalty in our state.

I would be happy to lead a discussion of issues related to the death penalty informed by my personal experience representing defendants in capital cases.  This would include:

People v. Stanley Boclair—a maximum security prison murder case.
People v. George Washington—a murder for hire case.
People v. Baruch Shaw—a rape murder case involving a minor victim
People v. Jimmie Lucero—a Texas triple murder case
People v. Caroline Peoples—a serial murder case with multiple victims over a three week span

All points of view on the death penalty would be welcome in this discussion.