President's Message

President's Message

On January 19th and 20th, ACDLA held its 22nd Annual Death Penalty Seminar and Conference at the Embassy Suites in Hoover. We had the honor of hearing from a number of nationally recognized speakers in the area of false confessions and crime scene investigation. We were treated to an amazing Key Note speech by former death row inmate and recent exoneree, Anthony Ray Hinton. ACDLA once again confirmed its status as one of the best death penalty seminars in the country.

Over 280 people attended the seminar on Friday and were treated to quality lectures by Ross Gardner of Bevel Gardner Forensics in Georgia and Dr. Richard Leo, Professor of Psychology, University of San Francisco, California. Mr. Gardner’s discussion focused on turning data (evidence) into knowledge (facts) that can be used to help you convince juries and ultimately win your case. He walked those in attendance through the process of examining crime scene data (photos, sketches, physical evidence, and notes) in a manner that allows defense attorneys the ability to incorporate that information into the theme of the case. Dr. Richard Leo discussed the phenomenon of false confessions and how to analyze and uncover the false confession in your cases. The two biggest take a ways for me from Dr. Leo’s lecture involved the significant negative affect a confession (false or not) has on a jury and the severe methods law enforcement uses during interrogations (false evidence and coercion) to obtain confessions.

Dr. Hope Hill, Professor of Psychology, Howard University, Washington D.C. spoke on the issue of “Cultural Mitigation” and Dr. Liz Vartkessian, Executive Director, Advancing Real Change, Inc., in Maryland spoke on “Basics of Case Organization and Tools of the Mitigation Trade”. Both Dr. Hill and Dr. Vartkessian provided important tools and information useful during the mitigation stage of capital cases. Dr. Hill’s insightful discussion of cultural mitigation attempted to place the defense team in the shoes of the defendant and sought to guide the team in seeing mitigation through the eyes of the defendant and his supporters. Dr. Vartkessian provided hands on examples of tools she has used in her past representation of capital defendants in an effort to take death off the table.

Judge Teresa Pullium, Circuit Court Judge, Jefferson County, Alabama, finished up Friday with a discussion of pretrial issues from the judges perspective. Judge Pullium did an incredible job of providing the 200+ people who finished off the day to crash course in the reality of managing a capital case from the bench. She covered everything from appointing the right attorneys, how to get funding and mental health issues. Judge Pullium was brutally honest in her assessment of how we handle our capital cases and ways to improve our representation.


The fun did not end after Judge Pullium’s presentation, as Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC hosted a cocktail social for over 100 members. This is the third year in a row that Heninger Garrison has hosted a social hour for those in attendance. It is a perfect way for members, speakers, and vendors to network and build new relationships.

Following the social hour, ACDLA held its first Council of Past Presidents dinner. All thirty-seven (37) of the organizations past presidents were invited to attend the inaugural gathering. Over twenty (20) past presidents attended a special dinner where we discussed the current state of the organization and proposed plans to get the past presidents more involved in the future growth of ACDLA. A great time was had by all in attendance and plans are already in the works for an even bigger and better event next year.

Saturday saw Birmingham’s very own Terry McCarthy of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, Birmingham go through the evidentiary challenges and secrets to authenticating and using social media evidence during trial. Monica Foster, Esq., Executive Director of Indiana Federal Community Defenders, Inc., covered “Using ABA Guidelines as a Weapon in the Arsenal” and “Narrative and Storytelling” over the course of two hours. Monica discussed the evolution of the ABA Guidelines and how to use them to get what you want and need during both the penalty and mitigation phases of your trial. Her presentation was truly invaluable and instructive on how to convince the Court your requests are reasonable and necessary to a fair trial.

Dr. Liz Vartkessian returned again on Saturday and provided the group with additional tools for tying in your themes and theories into your mitigation case. Her topic included methods for bringing your case full circle during mitigation to use the information disclosed during the guilt phase as a tool to convince the jury to spare you client’s life. J.D. Lloyd of Birmingham and Glenn Davidson of Mobile closed out the seminar with case law updates from both the federal and state appellate courts.

Anthony Ray Hinton silenced the crowd of over 200 attendees with harrowing details of his arrest, conviction and ultimately his redemption. Mr. Hinton spent 33 years on Alabama’s Death Row before Bryan Stevenson took up his cause and obtained a reversal before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was simply amazing and will forever stand as a source of inspiration and motivation for many.

Michael Hanle

President, ACDLA