EKU Department of Government Guest Speakers Retrospective: Robert Hill

Bob Hill during his lecture

On February 25, 2014, the Department of Government at EKU hosted Robert J. Hill, Jr. telling stories and lessons of his career as a public defender in capital cases.  Bob Hill has been a public defender since 1983 rising to Chief Public Defender for Marion County, Indiana in 2008, and in that time has successfully defended 25 capital cases.  He trains public defenders in capital cases in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina.  He sits on the Indiana Public Defender's Board and is an adjunct at Indiana University.

During his talk he spoke about his experience defending Jeremy Gross –his first capital case which was profiled by the New York Times in 2003 –and eventual transformation into an anti-death penalty advocate.  According to Hill, the practice of the death penalty in the United States has declined over the past 20 years due to three major changes.  First, many states began to implement life-without-possibility-of-parole as an alternative to the death penalty.  Informal surveys have indicated that many people consider a life in prison to be as severe, or even worse, than a death penalty, and both are equally capable of keeping the convicted people away from society.  Second, defense lawyers learned to argue mitigation in the sentencing phase of death penalty cases.  Capital juries are given great leeway in which punishments to implement, and defense attorneys argue that -whatever the details of the crime-execution will not bring back the dead, but it will extinguish what good there was in the murderers, many of whom have had hard lives themselves.  One of the jurors quoted in the New York Times story said that Jeremy Gross had been “doing a life sentence since he was born.”  Finally, Americans are becoming more concerned about wrong convictions and the possibility of executing innocent people.

Following the talk, Bob Hill took questions from the audience and discussed the variety of positions held on the death penalty by the EKU college community.

Published on April 18, 2014

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