Who we are
Faculty Director and Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School
Sandra Babcock is Faculty Director and founder of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. As a Clinical Professor and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell University Law School, she specializes in international human rights litigation, access to justice, death penalty defense, international gender rights, and the application of international law in US courts. With her clinic students, she has spent several years working on access to justice for prisoners in Malawi, where their advocacy has led to the release of 165 prisoners since 2007. She is also counsel to the Government of Mexico in the cases of Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in the United States, and was Mexico’s counsel before the International Court of Justice in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals. For her work, she was awarded the Aguila Azteca, the highest honor bestowed by the government of Mexico upon citizens of foreign countries, in 2003. Professor Babcock has argued cases before the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Courts of California, Texas, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico.
Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project and Professor at Cornell Law School
John Blume is the Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project and Professor at Cornell Law School. He is one of the foremost death penalty practitioners in the United States, with particular expertise on the application of the death penalty to individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses. Internationally, he has been involved for the past four years in several projects related to improving the quality of capital defense in China. The first capital punishment clinic in China, launched by Professor Hongyao Wu of China University of Political Science and Law in 2010, is the result of an ongoing collaboration with Professor Blume. Each year, the Cornell Death Penalty Project hosts a Chinese visiting scholar who researches capital punishment, and Professor Blume has given a number of presentations regarding the current status and use of the death penalty in China.
Sheri Lynn Johnson
Assistant Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project
Sheri Lynn Johnson is an expert on the interface of race and issues in criminal procedure, and the Assistant Director of the Cornell Death Penalty project, an initiative to foster empirical scholarship on the death penalty, which offers students an opportunity to work with practitioners on death penalty cases, and to provide information and assistance for death penalty lawyers. After her graduation from Yale Law School in 1979, Professor Johnson worked for a year in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society, and then joined the Cornell Law School Faculty in 1981. Professor Johnson co-founded the Cornell Death Penalty Project in 1993. She currently teaches constitutional and criminal law, and supervises the post-conviction litigation and capital trial clinics.
Keir M. Weyble
Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Death Penalty Litigation at Cornell Law School
Keir M. Weyble is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Death Penalty Litigation at Cornell Law School. Before coming to Cornell, he spent twelve years as a practicing attorney based in South Carolina, where he concentrated on the litigation of capital cases in state and federal courts. He has served as counsel, co-counsel, or as a consultant at the trial, appellate, and collateral review stages in dozens of capital cases across the country, from state trial court proceedings to merits stage litigation in the Supreme Court of the United States. He is also a nationally recognized expert on federal habeas corpus law and practice, a member of the Habeas Assistance and Training Counsel Project, co-author (with John Blume) of the Federal Habeas Corpus Update, and a frequent faculty member and presenter at professional training programs related to capital cases and post-conviction practice. At Cornell Law, he teaches Trial Advocacy, seminars on Advanced Criminal Procedure: Post-Conviction Remedies and Capital Punishment Law, and co-teaches the Capital Clinics, the Juvenile Justice Clinic, and the Innocence Clinic.
Delphine Lourtau is the Executive Director of the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, where she oversees and coordinates the Center’s research and advocacy projects. Prior to joining the Center, she was Research Director for the Death Penalty Worldwide project, where she helped develop a groundbreaking database analyzing the death penalty through the lens of international human rights law. She has lectured widely on international law and the death penalty and has been consulted by numerous media outlets for her expertise regarding the practical application of the death penalty around the world. Her concern for fundamental rights in the criminal justice process was cemented by early experiences at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and capital criminal defense work. She has also practiced as a civil rights lawyer in the United States, representing victims of police misconduct in the war on drugs at the Chicago firm of Loevy & Loevy. Following her graduation from McGill University in Montreal with degrees in common law and civil law, she clerked for Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada and completed an LLM at New York University School of Law, where she was a Hauser Scholar. She also holds a Master’s degree from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris.
Laura Ann Douglas
Associate Director of Research and Training
Laura Ann Douglas is the Associate Director of Research and Training at the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Laura oversees Center research, including maintaining the Death Penalty Worldwide database. She also spearheads the organization of the Center’s Makwanyane Institute. She graduated from Stanford Law School in 2017. Prior to joining the Center, she clerked for a federal district judge in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and she interned at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on a team investigating international crimes in the Central African Republic. She also worked as a public defender in Portland, Oregon, and for one year of her time there she was a Civitas Fellow who focused on drug possession cases and policy work related to addiction. In law school, she trained at the ACLU of Northern California, Orleans Public Defenders, and the Stanford Community Law Center. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University, with minors in French and Economics. At Indiana University, she was the Director of Women’s Affairs for the student government and helped start an organization which worked to prevent sexual assault on campus. She speaks French and is conversational in Spanish. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Oregon.
Clinical Teaching Fellow
Zohra Ahmed is a Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Prior to joining the Center, she was a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, where she represented individuals charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to homicides. While a public defender, she organized efforts to hold prosecutors accountable, most recently through Court Watch NYC, a community-led program to monitor criminal court proceedings. In law school, she trained at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU, where she participated in litigation challenging US drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen. She has also participated in and led human rights investigations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel and Bolivia. She speaks French and Urdu, and is conversational in Mandarin. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Cambridge, and Fordham University. She is licensed to practice law in the state of New York.
Randi Kepecs is the Program Assistant at the Cornell Center on Death Penalty Worldwide, where she plays a central role in strategic planning, fundraising, logistics and research. She has worked in historic preservation at the Municipal Art Society and the Victorian Society (UK), and has created large scale fundraising events for philanthropic institutions in New York City. Before she joined the Center on the Death Penalty, she worked as a reference librarian as well as freelance researcher for more than a decade. Prior to arriving in Ithaca in 1991, she worked at University College London in their first fundraising office. Randi has a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning from New York University, and a Master’s of Library and Information Science from University of Pittsburgh. She is a proud human rights activist, as well an active community volunteer. Randi is a recipient of the National Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for her work on the Cayuga Heights History Project, which she co-founded.
Joon Lee is a Research Associate at the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. She earned a JD from Cornell Law School in May 2019 with concentration on public interest law. At Cornell, Joon participated in the International Human Rights Clinic, working on post-conviction litigation of death penalty cases in Tanzania and human rights reporting in the Occupied Golan. She also participated in criminal defense litigation of anti-corporate protesters as a member of the Protest and Civil Disobedience Defense Practicum. Joon worked as an intern at Landesa, an organization that focuses on international land rights for farmers and farmworkers, and at Yale Law School with their Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic. Joon also did a co-externship with both Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Southern African Institute for Policy and Research in South Africa and in Zambia, assisting with land displacement cases and regulation of extractive industries. She has received the Freeman Award for Civil-Human Rights in 2019. Joon graduated from New York University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture, and Communication and a minor in Anthropology.
Research and Development Associate
Rebecca Huertas is the Research and Development Associate of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, where she conducts international and comparative legal research to contribute to the Center’s database and its thematic reports. She also focuses on broadening the Center’s profile nationally and internationally and designing strategies to identify and develop funding partnerships to support the Center’s work. Prior to joining the Center, Rebecca worked to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws by financial institutions within the Federal Home Loan Bank system. She has also worked at the Ireland Law Reform Commission in Dublin, Ireland, in the area of treaties, and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, focusing on current cases before the Court and various Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. Rebecca has published articles and contributed to books on ethics in law and the death penalty. She holds degrees in Spanish from the University of Valencia in Spain; in development economics, summa cum laude, from San Francisco State University; and two teaching credentials from Sonoma State University. Rebecca also has a JD from Suffolk University Law School in Boston where she graduated with distinction in international law. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Massachusetts, and was named by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to its 2019 Pro Bono Honor Roll for contributing 680 hours of pro bono work during law school.
Zhen Yang is a Legal Researcher at the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. She earned an LLM degree from Cornell Law School. At Cornell, she participated in the International Gender Rights Seminar led by Professor Sandra Babcock. She also completed an independent writing project on sex selection practice in China under the supervision of Professor Babcock. Before Cornell, Zhen graduated with a Master’s degree in law from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with a concentration in criminal justice. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in law from Wuhan University in China. She researched on the Chinese chief prosecutor system, government information disclosure, and unlawful arrest or detention in China. Zhen was an intern at the people’s court in Wuhan, China, and worked on a variety of criminal cases under the supervision of judges. She also volunteered with Greenway School (Cambodia) to teach students from low-income families.