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Warwick students providing legal aid to USA’s death row inmates

Ten law students from the University of Warwick are about to travel to the United States to help provide legal representation on behalf of prisoners who have been sentenced to death.

They are taking part in an internship programme which provides an exclusive opportunity to work on some of the country’s most prominent capital punishment cases.

Warwick’s Death Penalty Project, which is now in its 10th year, is run through the Centre for Human Rights in Practice and has proved to be a life-changing experience for dozens of aspiring lawyers.

Dina AlawnehDina Alawneh, who graduates this week following a three-year law degree, is about to start her second internship, after spending last summer at Louisiana Capital Assistance Centre (LCAC).

As part of the placement, the 21-year-old visited a prisoner who was awaiting the death sentence, which she found to be a highly emotional experience.

“It really got to me, it was horrible,” said Dina, who lives in Leamington. “He was 24, so just a year older than me and we were doing a monthly visit, which is important with death row cases, to build trust and maintain good relationships. There were no bars or anything in one of the prison camps at Louisiana State Penitentiary and we walked between the inmates, which was quite scary.

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference and just seeing the lawyers over there and watching them was amazing. It sounds awful but it’s exciting to be a part of it because the stakes are so high – the work that they do, it really is the difference between life and death.”

Dina, who always thought she was against capital punishment, says her first internship reinforced those views. “I am definitely against it. You can’t justify taking someone’s life for anything and there are always going to be miscarriages of justice.”

“I sound like I’m exaggerating but honestly this internship has meant everything, it’s made such, such a huge difference. I am so grateful. Being over there was so much better than I expected and I think it can change people’s minds about law and the death penalty.”

As well as sending students to the US, Warwick also has around 120 volunteers currently providing ongoing remote assistance to US capital defence attorneys through research support work.

With more than 100 people signing up to the scheme annually over the last three years, Warwick law students have now been involved in a total of 36 death penalty cases.

The Law School has also hosted visits by Russell Stetler from the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Oakland, California, who co-ordinates federal death penalty projects which aim to ensure people facing capital punishment receive effective legal representation in the US courts.

During his last visit he was interviewed by Lacuna, a human rights magazine also hosted at the Centre for Human Rights in Practice.

Alice PanepintoDr Alice Panepinto, a research fellow from Warwick’s Centre for Human Rights in Practice, who is coordinating the internship scheme for 2015/2016, said: ““The Death Penalty Project is a remarkable success and Warwick is delighted to offer such a unique opportunity to its students.

“As well as being of benefit to the people who go on the internship placements, the US attorneys to whom we provide assistance tell us that the support they get from Warwick is invaluable in ensuring justice is present in their cases. There’s a real lack of funding for capital defence lawyers in the States, so the project is crucial.”

She added: “Here at the Centre for Human Rights in Practice we’re committed to helping focus the minds of academics, students, practitioners and activists who want to advocate the study and promotion of human rights at local, national or international levels. By providing research support to human rights organisations and harnessing our academic expertise, we can inform policy and practice in a number of fields.

“We are hoping to continue to grow the project over the coming years, forging even stronger links with our partners in the States to help them with their highly demanding work and to provide an even richer learning experience for our students.”

PR 154 16/7/15

Notes to Editors:

The Death Penalty Project was constructed following an event called “Is the Death Penalty About to Execute Itself?” at Warwick in 2004 and saw the first undergraduate students taking intern placements in the US working at capital defence offices in Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky.

Pictured - top right, Dina Alawneh; bottom left, Dr Alice Panepinto.

Dina Alawneh is happy to speak to the media about her experiences in the US and Dr Alice Panepinto can provide further information about Death Penalty Project for 2015/2016. To arrange, contact Lee Page, Communications Manager at The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255. Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email:


Lee Page

Communications Manager, University of Warwick

Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255

Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221