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One Client Got Death. Then Another, and Another

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Missouri claims less than 2% of America’s population, but is the place where 14.5% of the convictions of the 62 people sitting on federal death row occurred. In a lengthy piece for the Guardian, David Rose looks at the lawyer who “has had more clients sentenced to death in federal court than any other defense lawyer in America”: Frederick Duchardt, a Kansas City attorney who has served as the defense in seven federal death trials and seen his clients sentenced to death in four. In two interviews with Rose, the otherwise gregarious Duchardt gets defensive, saying he mounted an effective defense in what were “ugly, ugly” cases. Rose isn’t so sure. The piece is rich with details, but one of Rose’s bigger focuses is the standard use of a “mitigation specialist” during the “penalty phase” of death-penalty trials.

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The American Bar Association is emphatic in saying capital defense teams “must” employ such an investigator, whose strength is uncovering medical records and getting those close to the guilty to reveal sensitive information that could help make the case that, due to horrific abuse or intellectual disabilities, he or she should be spared. In defending German Sinisterra and Wes Purkey, Duchardt opted not to use a mitigation specialist, and so failed to uncover details that Rose expresses could have helped the men’s cases: Both had been repeatedly raped as children and suffered brain damage, facts that emerged during the men’s appeals, via new legal teams, of their death sentences. Rose takes issue with Duchardt’s assertion that it was all part of his strategy. Read Rose’s piece in full here.

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