Tennessee Gains Another Lawyer Committed to Fighting the Death Penalty

Today, a Chicago Tribune article features defense attorney Justyna Garbaczewska Scalpone, a Polish native who has worked against the death penalty in Pennsylvania and then Illinois, but is now moving to Nashville to join the Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender.

During her time in Illinois, Garbaczewska Scalpone worked under the moratorium that Governor George Ryan implemented in 2000 and knew it was unlikely that any of her clients would be executed. Since Illinois abolished the death penalty last year, she has been wanting to get involved with capital cases again. Nashville seemed to be a good fit since her husband is a musician, and Tennessee has the tenth largest death row in the country.

Though our state’s execution rate isn’t very high (six people in the last 52 years), Garbaczewska Scalpone says she may eventually move on to work in another state like Virginia or Texas, who leads the country in executions. “Tennessee is sort of a middle ground,” she said. “It’s a good step toward that.”

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that in Tennessee, “support for the death penalty runs wide but not deep. It has a sizable death row population, with about 90 prisoners, but does not appear altogether eager to execute them.” He went on to say that “some of the courts in Tennessee, some of the people, even some religious groups–they don’t all fall in line. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to abolish the death penalty, but it’s at a slower pace. There isn’t that unanimous support that pushes everything forward. The result is that good lawyers can make a difference.”

One of Garbaczewska Scalpone’s former supervisors at the Illinois’ Office of the State Appellate Defender said, “she is dedicated to fighting the death penalty, devoted to her clients and smart.” We are happy to have a lawyer with that kind of combination joining the fight here in Tennessee.

(Photo: Justyna Garbaczewska Scalpone taken by Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune)

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