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ND Law’s new Death Penalty Abolition Society holds first meeting

| Monday, November 13, 2023

Ava Warford | The Observer
The Notre Dame Law School Death Penalty Abolition Society held its first meeting Friday.

The Notre Dame Law School Death Penalty Abolition Society (DPAS) held its first general meeting Friday in the Eck Hall of Law after recently being approved by the University. 

Rita Lake, an ND Law student and co-founder of DPAS, explained she wanted the club to be a space for people of different beliefs and backgrounds to work together for a common cause. 

In the meeting, Lake said the club has a twofold mission: to educate students in the club and to make a positive impact on the lives of death row inmates. 

Even before the official formation of the club, Lake and others worked to achieve these goals. Recently, Lake and a group of her fellow law students wrote letters and emails to Idaho’s Commission of Pardons and Parole to prevent the execution of Thomas Creech, a death row inmate whose execution was scheduled for Nov. 8. Creech eventually received a stay of execution on jurisdictional grounds. 

During the meeting, Lake emphasized she wants the Notre Dame community to “understand how much young people can make an impact.” 

The club will focus on three different forms of outreach: judicial, legislative and prison outreach. The judicial outreach portion of the Society will focus on involvement in case law about the death penalty. In legislative outreach, the club will seek to create a relationship with the Indiana General Assembly. In prison outreach, the club members will write letters to help death row prisoners as they did in Creech’s case.

The co-founders alongside Lake include Alexandra Lesnik (prison advocacy vice president), Andrea Testin (judicial advocacy vice president), Andrew Badger (legislative advocacy vice president), Yifei Wang (treasurer) and Noah Walusis (secretary), who are all ND law students studying alongside Lake. DPAS is currently seeking new leaders in addition to the current ones.

The club plans to host a few events next semester, including a death penalty speaker series featuring Notre Dame law professor Marah Stith McLeod and two attorneys. In this event, speakers will explain the evolution and current state of case law. The club will also host a letter-writing program in the future where participants can learn how best to write letters to death row inmates. The program will occur over Zoom and it will be held sometime in January. 

While the club itself is restricted to students in the Notre Dame Law School, the organization plans to offer events, such as lectures by guest speakers, open to undergraduate students in the future. However, it is unlikely these events will happen next semester as the club is still in its initial stages of development. 

Testin stressed she hopes the club is able to build on its initial success. 

“The Tom Creech example was hopefully the first,” said Testin. “Our voices count.”

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