Students Learn From Work on Death Penalty Case

September 29, 2010

Two Law School students recently contributed to the case of a man whose death sentence was overturned this month by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Carolyn Nguyen and Brett Blobaum
Carolyn Nguyen and Brett Blobaum

In 2007, a Prince William County jury convicted Joshua Wayne Andrews of a pair of 2002 murders and imposed four death sentences. On Sept. 16, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld the convictions but overturned all of the death sentences, finding that several reversible trial errors had occurred and holding that one of the death sentences amounted to double jeopardy.

Matthew Engle, the legal director of the Law School's Innocence Project Clinic, represented Andrews before the state Supreme Court - Andrews was Engle's last remaining client from his previous job as a capital defender.

Two current second-year students from the Innocence Project Clinic, Brett Blobaum and Carolyn Nguyen, worked on the case as summer research assistants for Engle, doing legal research and participating in mooting, or practice arguments. Engle argued the case before the state Supreme Court on June 8.

"Their research was great, and both of them came up with ways of addressing problems that we anticipated the court would have," Engle said.

Blobaum said working on the case was a highlight of the summer, and that he benefited from seeing the large amount of behind-the-scenes work that went into the case prior to the arguments.

"I knew that preparing for a case like this obviously required a large time commitment, but seeing the excruciating detail that was poured into the crafting of even the smallest details of the argument was a real eye-opener," Blobaum said."The mock arguments were a very collaborative process, in which my opinion was not only encouraged, but also appreciated."

Engle said approximately a dozen lawyers from all over the state participated in the moots.

"I think the students got to see that no one individual prepares these cases for oral arguments," he said."We really revised the arguments in the light of questions people were asking and what they were suggesting. They got to see it come together."

Blobaum also traveled to Richmond to hear Engle argue in front of the justices.

"Seeing Professor Engle respond to questions and knowing his answers were influenced by the research Carolyn and I had done was very fulfilling," he said.

The Supreme Court of Virginia sent the case back to the Prince William County Circuit Court for a new sentencing trial before another jury.

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