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Death is Different XXIV (2018)

Speaker Information and Bios


Tania Alavi (FACDL Death Penalty Committee Chair) is a double gator who started her career as an Assistant Public Defender in 1992. After entering private practice in 1995, she opened her law firm Alavi, Bird & Pozzuto P.A. in 1996 and primarily practices in the 8th and 5th Judicial Circuits. While maintaining her regular caseload of criminal cases, she has spent much of her focus handling death penalty cases over the last 10 years. Since 2007, Tania has held An adjunct position at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and is the field supervisor for the death penalty externship at the law school. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for FACDL and the Florida Capital Resource Center and recently finished her term on the Death Penalty Due Process Committee for the American Bar Association.  Through these organizations and others, Tania has had the opportunity to present at several seminars and conferences over the last 25 years.

Deborah A. Goins began practicing law in Iowa in 1982, after graduating from Drake Law School in Des Moines, Iowa.  From the beginning, her focus was to pursue a career in criminal defense as a public defender. She is currently with the Public Defender’s Office in Tampa, Florida.  She began trying murder cases as a public defender in Iowa.  After coming to Florida in 1987, she began trying capital murder cases. She has tried 16 capital cases and has tried more than 50 other homicide cases.  Ms. Goins has been recognized for excellence in Criminal Trial Practice by the Florida Public Defender Association, the Hillsborough County Bar Association, the Lakeland Bar Association, and the Office of the Public Defender in both Tampa and Bartow.

Kate O'Shea of Sentence Mitigation Specialists, Inc. has been practicing capital and JLWOP mitigation since 2009 and has completed over 75 cases, 12 in trial and the rest by resolution or waiver. She specializes in forensic interviewing for mental illness and trauma and developing client relationships. She has worked with dozens of experts in a wide range of topics such as cultural anthropology, psychopharmacology and social psychology.  Although Kate specializes on Florida cases, she has also worked on Pennsylvania and on Federal cases.  Sentence Mitigation Specialists, 941.400.3071

Dr. Heather Holmes received her Doctoral Degree from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  She began a career in forensic psychology working in a supermaximum security facility in Maryland and later in the Florida Department of Corrections. For the past several years Dr. Holmes has worked in private practice conducting psychological evaluations on criminal defendants and has been qualified as an expert numerous times in both State and Federal Court.  She has several areas of expertise-- death penalty mitigation, evaluation of Intellectual Deficiency, evaluations of sexual offenders, and evaluations for several appellate matters including the resentencing of juveniles.  Her office is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida but she travels throughout the State and country to both conduct evaluations and teach at conferences.

Peter N. Mills is an Assistant Public Defender in the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, and has worked in the capital trial unit. He is the Chair of the Public Defender Association’s Death Penalty Steering Committee and a frequent speaker at death penalty conferences. Prior to his work with the Office of the Public Defender, he worked at the Office of the Capital Collateral Representative, where he represented Florida death row inmates in postconviction litigation. 

Emily Olson-Gault is Director and Chief Counsel of the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project in Washington, D.C. where she works to improve the quality and availability of legal representation for those charged with or convicted of capital crimes in the United States. A 2006 graduate of NYU School of Law, she joined the ABA in 2008 as a staff attorney and became Director in 2015. Ms. Olson-Gault serves as a national expert on the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment & Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. She routinely provides training and technical assistance to capital defenders and pro bono counsel. She has also testified about the requirements for effective capital defense representation in cases throughout the United States and before state and federal legislatures in support of policy to improve the quality of capital defense.

Valarie Linnen practices in the areas of criminal, civil, and administrative appeals at the state and federal level, focusing primarily on homicide and termination of parental rights.  She attended Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan for undergraduate and Florida Coastal School of Law for law school.  Valarie successfully advocated to the Florida Bar Ethics Committee and Florida Bar Board of Governors to prohibit the use of appeal waivers which bar claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.  Valarie is originally from Lilburn, Georgia.

Melissa Fay Greene is the author of six books of nonfiction: Praying for Sheetrock (1991), The Temple Bombing (1996), Last Man Out (2003), There Is No Me Without You (2006), No Biking in the House Without a Helmet (2011), and The Underdogs (2016). Melissa teaches undergraduate and graduate nonfiction writing at Agnes Scott College as the Kirk Distinguished Writer-in-Residence.  Melissa’s work has been translated into a dozen languages and has been honored with a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Book Award nominations, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the ACLU National Civil Liberties Award, the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award, Elle Magazine’s Readers’ Prize, the Salon Book Prize, a Lyndhurst Foundation Fellowship, the Georgia Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities, and induction into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She has contributed to The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Newsweek, LIFE, MS, CNN.com, Huffington Post, and other periodicals. Praying For Sheetrock was named one of the Top 100 Works of American Journalism of the 20th century and appears on Entertainment Weekly‘s list of “The New Classics–The 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years.”

James R. Merikangas, M.D. is a Neuropsychiatrist, co-founder of the American Neuropsychiatric Association and former president of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists.  He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and trained in both Neurology and Psychiatry at Yale.  He is board certified in each of those specialties.  Primarily a practicing clinician, Dr. Merikangas established the EEG laboratory at the Western Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh, where he also established the Neurodiagnostic Clinic and directed the Psychiatric Emergency room. Currently he is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at The George Washington University School of Health Sciences and a consultant in research at the National Institutes of Mental Health.  An interest in the causes and prevention of violent behavior has led to the neuropsychiatric evaluation of 182 murderers in 28 state prisons and pioneering the use of brain imaging in the understanding of violent crimes.  Other forensic interests include brain injury, toxic exposures and psychiatric trauma as an expert for both plaintiffs and defense, including for the U.S. Department of Justice.   He has published articles and chapters on these topics, served as an editorial reviewer, and has lectured nationally and internationally as well.

Karen M. Gottlieb is Co-Director of the Florida Center for Capital Representation at Florida International University’s College of Law. She is a former member of the Miami-Dade Public Defender's appellate division, former chair of the Florida Public Defenders’ Capital Litigation Steering Committee and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida Capital Resource Center and the Innocence Project. She has lectured on effective appellate advocacy and various death-penalty topics for FACDL, the Florida Public Defenders’ Association, the Florida Bar, the Dade County Bar Association, the South Carolina Bar Association, the Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the St. Thomas Law Review Symposium, and the Vermont Law School Capital Punishment Symposium.  She filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of former Florida Supreme Court Justices in Hurst v. Florida., and has continued to file amicus briefs on death penalty issues in the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

Neena Malik, Ph.D. is a Florida licensed psychologist who has been in independent practice for several years in Dade County.  She earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Denver, and her BA in psychology from Yale University. She is currently also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami. Dr. Malik was previously on faculty at the University of Miami, conducting research, teaching, training, and publishing.  She has received grants from the Administration for Children and Families and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.  Her areas of research have included children's functioning across developmental stages when exposed to maltreatment, domestic violence, and community violence, as well as family factors related to risk and resilience. Currently, Dr. Malik's forensic work includes work across the state on Miller-Graham cases and as an expert witness on death penalty cases, specifically with defendants under the age of 22.

Brian Thomas Cavanagh has practiced criminal law for over 40 years. He retired from the State Attorney’s Office of Broward County in July 2016, after 38 years of service as a prosecutor. Specializing in homicide cases for 27 of those years, he spent the last 10 as Chief of the Homicide Trial Unit. Mr. Cavanagh himself tried well over 100 murder cases during his career and supervised the handling of hundreds more homicides and suspicious deaths. His myriad of responsibilities served to refine an expertise on the law of evidence, search & seizure, Miranda, criminal procedure, and justifiable use of force – including the vagaries of the Stand-Your-Ground law – among other captivating subjects, as well as the when, which, what, who, why and wherefores of the death penalty. Brian Cavanagh has often appeared on local and national television, as well as radio and podcast, recounting a coterie of storied cases, and has been featured in true crime books such as “The Crime That Never Was” by Dr. Carl Coppolino and “Until Proven Innocent” by Arthur Jay Harris. Ironically, in the former matter, Lt. Tom Cavanagh had enlisted his son, Brian Cavanagh – before his becoming a prosecutor, to assist for the defense; and in the latter extraordinary case, Brian Cavanagh – subsequently as the prosecutor – sought the sage advice and integral involvement of his elder father – who had long since retired to South Florida.

Catherine Vogel attended University of Miami School of Law graduating in 1981.  She became employed with the Miami-Dade State Attorney Office from December 1981 until January 2001.  In Dade County Ms. Vogel tried over one hundred felony trials. The last fifteen years she tried homicide cases almost exclusively.  She was involved in several high-profile murder cases, including the German tourist robbery/homicides, the Jimmy Ryce murder case and several other cases involving death penalty litigation.  In 2001 Ms. Vogel was recruited to be the Chief Assistant in Monroe County State Attorney Office. She moved to Key West and continued to participate in homicide prosecution.  She left the Office in 2009 and for a brief time was in private practice doing, among other things, criminal defense.  In 2012 Ms. Vogel was elected the Monroe County State Attorney.  She has retired from the practice of law as of January 2017.

Matthew Rubenstein serves as Director of the Capital Resource Counsel Project, a program of the Defender Services Office of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, which works in close coordination with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. Capital Resource Counsel provide training, consultation, and support to attorneys in Federal Defender organizations and CJA panel attorneys appointed to represent persons charged with capital crimes in federal districts across the United States. Capital Resource Counsel also provide direct representation in federal capital cases. Rubenstein has served as counsel in death penalty cases in state or federal courts in Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Oregon, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Vermont. He has conducted Morgan method life-qualification voir dire in over a dozen capital cases, provided case consultations to capital defense teams in jurisdictions across the United States, and lectures frequently on death penalty litigation, capital voir dire, and criminal justice issues. Prior to his Capital Resource Counsel position, Rubenstein was the founding director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center, a senior staff attorney at the Georgia Capital Defender, and counsel at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. He has also worked as a public defender at the Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon and the Seattle-King County Defender Association. Rubenstein is an Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University. Rubenstein lives in Portland, Oregon.