MELBOURNE solicitor Lucy Larkins will fly to the USA next week as part of a fellowship with Reprieve UK, the anti-capital punishment charity.
Larkins has left her job at commercial law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler to work in the deep south of the USA, often referred to as the "death belt", The Age reports.
As part of the fellowship, Larkins will be paid approximately $43,000AUD a year, and will focuses on the welfare of mentally ill prisoners facing the death sentence in Louisiana. She will also be writing a handbook to help local lawyers fight cases for mentally ill people accused of capital crimes, providing them with information about competency hearings.
The Reprieve Fellowships are open to lawyers across the globe, who demonstrate an excellent match between themselves, their project and the problem to be addressed.
Larkins has extensive experience with the “death belt”, having worked for the Louisiana Capital Assistance Centre, a not-for-profit law firm representing people facing the death penalty, at the end of her degree for more than a year.
One prisoner Larkins worked with while there had a long history of mental illness, but a local judge insisted on trying him as a sane person and he ended up on death row at Louisiana's Angola Prison, a highly fortified prison farm.
Larkins says she would like to do the bar examination in Alabama to defend people charged with capital offences. "There have been 22 executions in the US so far this year, all in the southern states,” she said.