St. Thomas to Host Aug. 23 Debate on Life Sentences for Juveniles

An Illinois public defender will face a University of St. Thomas law professor in an upcoming public debate on sentencing juveniles to life in prison without hope of parole.

The debate, “Searching for Justice: Juvenile Offenders and Life Without Parole,” is free and open to the public. It will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, in the Schulze Grand Atrium at the St. Thomas School of Law in downtown Minneapolis.

The debate features Mark Osler of the St. Thomas law faculty and Jeanne Bishop, assistant public defender in the Office of the Cook County Public Defender in Illinois and adjunct professor at Northwestern School of Law’s trial advocacy program. Former federal prosecutor Hank Shea, a distinguished senior fellow at St. Thomas’ Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, will moderate the event.

Bishop is an internationally known advocate on criminal sentencing who favors the sentence of life without parole for juveniles. She is the sister of Nancy Bishop Langert, who was shot to death along with her husband and their unborn child in 1990. The perpetrator of that crime was 16 at the time and received three life sentences.

Osler, author of Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment, opposes the sentence of life without parole for juveniles. He comes with courtroom experience as a former federal prosecutor. Osler’s opposition to the life-without-parole sentence is consistent with his ongoing scholarship and work in ensuring there is room for mercy in criminal sentencing.

Attorneys and the public will find the debate interesting, according to Osler, because, “It is a little-used sentence but it is a bellwether for where the nation stands in terms of criminal sentencing.”

The program is part welcome week for first-year St. Thomas law students, and Osler sees this as a positive way to welcome them to the profession and the issues the students will face. “They are going to be exposed to a positive and distinctive part of the legal process. We can disagree without castigating.”

Osler has great praise for his debate opponent; he notes that Bishop is not only a national expert, but is called on internationally. “She is very good at what she does, but in a way that is not personal, vindictive or raw.”

Co-hosts for the debate are the university’s Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions and the School of Law.

A limited number of seats are available to the public. Continuing legal education credit has been applied for. For more information or to R.S.V.P. go to the School of Law website.