“Our job is to say to the court, ‘hey, if this information had been presented at trial, the jury would have had mercy on our client and not voted for death.’”
—Ellen Brady ’15

As of January 1, 2016, there were 2,943 death row inmates in the United States according to deathpenaltyinfo.org. Of those 2,943 inmates, 743 are in California where alumna Ellen Brady ’15 (St. Paul) is working as an investigator, using what she learned at Macalester to collect information about clients to help move them from death row.

Brady works for the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, an agency of California government that falls under the judicial branch. “The state appoints us to represent people on death row in their habeas corpus proceedings,” she said. Habeas corpus is the process by which the accused presents their case to the court or in front of a judge.

“After someone is sentenced to death in California, there is a complicated, very long legal process,” says Brady. “Most people on death row come from poverty and cannot afford attorneys—so they sit on death row for years. To give you an idea, most of our clients’ trials happened in the ’80s or ’90s and they have been on the row since then. In a way, we are sort of like public defenders, but for capital cases in post-conviction proceedings.”

Brady believes the clients deserve a second chance at life and she and her team do what they can to see that through. “We compile an extensive social history for our client to present as mitigating evidence—any information about the defendant’s life (related or unrelated to the crime) that might influence the jurors’ decision.” She explained that many of her agency’s clients suffer from mental illness, grow up in poverty, and experience trauma, neglect and racism.

“Our job is to say to the court, ‘hey, if this information had been presented at trial, the jury would have had mercy on our client and not voted for death,’” Brady said.

She credits her studies at Macalester for giving her a comprehensive understanding of the structural inequality that exists in our country: “It permeates every inch of society: schools, health care, the housing market, the criminal justice system.”

Brady said she puts to good use the skills she learned at Macalester. “As a sociology major, I learned how to interview and collect and analyze data. As a Hispanic studies major, I developed Spanish language speaking and writing skills that prepared me to do my job bilingually,” she said. “The most important lesson: Never to accept anything at face value, but rather, to constantly ask why and think critically.”

January 16 2017

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