The ACLU's Capital Punishment Project
Partnering with ACLU affiliates in death penalty states, and with coalition partners nationally, CPP promotes both abolition and systemic reform of the death penalty process in the following ways:
Direct Representation: CPP takes on direct representation in cases that exemplify the inherent unfairness in capital cases. We work primarily in the courts of the South, in states that have historically been discriminatory or reluctant to provide adequate resources for indigent clients facing the death penalty.
Strategic Litigation: CPP is currently involved in capital litigation in courts throughout the country, including the United States Supreme Court. In general, its litigation focuses on: (1) innocent persons; (2) severely mentally ill persons; (3) persons who face execution because of abysmal legal representation; (4) persons who face execution because of systemic discrimination; and (5) improving the fairness of capital trials and appeals.
Systemic Reform: CPP works to reform the capital punishment process. In general, its initiatives focus on improving the quality of legal representation, enhancing the fairness of capital trials and appeals, and reducing the number of defendants who face the death penalty.
Public Education and Advocacy: CPP is actively engaged in repeal and moratorium efforts in a number of states. Elsewhere, CPP is working to curtail the use of the death penalty and oppose recent efforts to expand its use through public education and other advocacy efforts.
Capital Punishment Project Staff
Cassandra Stubbs, Director
Jessica Poland, Office Manager
Claudia Van Wyk, Senior staff Attorney
Eric McBurney, Senior Staff Attorney
Brian Stull, Staff Attorney
Henderson Hill, Staff Attorney
Stacie Brown, Mitigation Specialist
William Webster, Paralegal
American Civil Liberties Union
Capital Punishment Project
201 West Main Street, Suite 402
Durham, N.C. 27701
Biography of Cassandra Stubbs
Cassy Stubbs is the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. Cassy joined the project in 2006 and since then has served as lead and associate counsel on behalf of death row inmates and defendants in trials and appeals throughout the South, including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Her clients have included Levon “Bo” Jones, a North Carolina death row inmate who was exonerated in 2008 when the state dismissed all charges against him, and Richard C. Taylor, a severely mentally ill man who was sentenced to death after a sham trial in Tennessee, but who won a new trial on appeal and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.
Cassy has also worked with numerous organizations and ACLU affiliates to file amicus briefs in capital cases in state and federal courts around the country. She has written policy papers, editorials and blog posts on a wide range of capital issues, such as the persistence of racial disparities in capital punishment and the fundamental flaws of purported claims that the death penalty deters future murders.
Before joining the ACLU, Cassy worked as a New Mexico State public defender in Aztec, N.M. Previously, she litigated employment discrimination and wage and hour cases in state and federal court with Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles, and with the New York Civil Liberties Union in New York City. She served as lead counsel in multiple influential employment cases, including Wet Seal v. Ochoa, In Re Metro Fulfillment and Lochren v. Suffolk County.
Cassy is admitted to the bars of North Carolina, New York, New Mexico, and California. She received her B.S, with honors, from Brown University in 1996 and graduated magna cum laude from New York University School of Law in 2000. She served as a judicial clerk for Judge Harry Pregerson on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Biography of Jessica Poland
Jessica Poland is the office manager for the ACLU Capital Punishment, having joined the project in 2013. Prior to ACLU, Jessica worked for 11 years as business manager for a nonprofit land conservation trust in North Carolina. Jessica earned a BFA in painting from Guilford College in 1995.
Biography of Eric McBurney
Eric McBurney joined the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, as a senior staff attorney, in early 2022. Before this position, he had been a public defender in California for nearly a decade. His PD career started in the offices of Contra Costa County and San Bernardino County where he provided vertical representation for clients on misdemeanors and felonies. Eric earned a master’s degree in English literature at the University of Utah and his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Maryland. Eric attended law school at the University of Iowa College of Law, where he studied under David Baldus and interned for the ACLU offices of Iowa and Michigan where he worked on First Amendment, prison to school pipeline, and juvenile sentencing issues.
Biography of Claudia Van Wyk
Claudia Van Wyk comes to the Capital Punishment Project after 14 years at the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia. Before that she spent many years as a public defender in New York and New Jersey, where she did both capital and non-capital appellate work. Her two proudest accomplishments are helping to walk one death row client out of prison and helping to give another death row client a good death in the presence of friends. Claudia was born and raised on Long Island in New York. She first developed an interest in indigent defense in the criminal defense clinic at NYU Law School.
Biography of Brian Stull
Brian Stull is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, having joined the project in 2006. Brian has served as trial and appellate counsel in capital cases in North Carolina and Texas. Brian represented Levon “Bo” Jones an innocent man exonerated from North Carolina’s death row in 2008, and Adrian Estrada, a Texas man whose death sentence was reversed when the ACLU discovered he had been sentenced to death based on the false testimony of a Texas prison investigator. Estrada v. State, 313 S.W.3D 274 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010).
Brian has regularly contributed to ACLU amicus briefs filed in the United States Supreme Court and written numerous posts concerning capital punishment for the ACLU Blog of Rights, as well as other outlets. Brian has investigated conditions of confinement on Texas’s death row and advocated for needed improvements.
Before joining the ACLU, Brian worked for five years at the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) in New York City, where he represented indigent criminal defendants convicted of serious felonies on direct appeal and in post conviction and federal habeas corpus proceedings. During his time at OAD, Brian argued over 35 appeals.
Brian received a B.A., with high distinction, in 1993, and an M.S.W. in 1995, both from the University of Michigan. As a social worker, Brian worked with chronically mentally ill adults. Brian graduated cum laude from New York University School of Law in 2000, where he was awarded the Ann Petluck Poses Memorial Prize for outstanding work as a clinical student in the Capital Defender Clinic. He then served as a judicial clerk for federal magistrate judge Steven Pepe in the Eastern District of Michigan Federal District Court.
Biography of Henderson Hill
Henderson Hill joined the ACLU as Senior Counsel after decades-long service as a public defender (PDS), director of the NC Death Penalty Resource Center [ and its non-profit successor, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation], a partner at the civil rights law firm, Ferguson Stein Chambers (CLT), and as director of the Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina. Most recently, Henderson served as founding director of the 8thAmendment Project. Henderson launched, and continues to serve as co-director of RedressNC, an initiative to unwind extreme sentences through collaboration with community stakeholders, most principally moderate-progressive district attorneys.
Henderson’s community leadership activities include founding the Charlotte Coalition for Moratorium Now (CCMN), a grassroots organization that for ten years lead successful campaign for a city council moratorium resolution, and supported of moratorium campaigns and criminal law reform efforts at the state legislature. Henderson also founded the non-profit, Neighborhood Advocacy Center, a law office that provided parental representation in abuse, neglect and dependency cases in Mecklenburg County. After five years of dramatically raising the level of practice in the family court, the staff and operations of the NAC were absorbed into the local public defender office.
Henderson is a graduate of Lehman College, CUNY, (B.A. Economics), and Harvard Law School, J.D. Henderson has taught courses on trial advocacy and on trial advocacy faculty teams at UNC, Duke and Harvard law schools, and internationally. He has lectured widely on trial skills, death penalty jurisprudence and death penalty abolition. In 2007, he was inducted as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Biography of Stacie Brown
Stacie Brown is the Mitigation Specialist with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. Stacie’s role is to develop comprehensive life stories and profiles that inform and persuade courts across the country to humanize incarcerated people facing the most severe and brutal punishment. Utilizing mitigation information, she details death sentenced people’s circumstances, history and environment to combat racism, unfair sentencing and execution. Prior to joining the ACLU-CCP, Stacie served as a Mitigation Specialist and Investigator for the Federal Community Defender of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Capital Habeas Unit in Philadelphia for 14 years.
Stacie is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a B. S. in Psychology. She began her career in a clinical mental health setting in Florida. Stacie then worked for many years for the State of Florida’s Capital Collateral Regional Counsel for the Southern District representing death sentenced people in Florida with their post-conviction appeals.
Biography of William Webster
William Webster is the paralegal for the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. Prior to joining the ACLU, William worked with several law firms in Washington, D.C. and Raleigh, N.C. His legal experience includes civil litigation involving insurance and medical malpractice matters, and assisting with the pro bono defense of misdemeanor criminal cases. William is a 1992 graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He is a member of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.