I was busy teaching classes one fall semester when I read an e-mail from a mitigation specialist with the Federal Public Defender appealing for help with a death penalty case. She was defending a client who she said was the direct descendent of Devil Anse Hatfield and Ellison Hatfield (of Hatfield and McCoy feud fame). In trying to determine how to use the client's cultural background as mitigation, she said she "didn't have a clue" if his being related to the Hatfield's was good or bad. The client had lived around coal mines his entire life, and they were researching the environmental effects of coal impoundment methods on well water. However, she wrote, "I am stuck when it comes to understanding how his cultural background (growing up in Appalachia) impacts his thinking and therefore his perspective on life." She asked for my help. Having experience as a cultural expert witness in previous death penalty cases, I volunteered to assist the defense team in making the case for life (as opposed to death) for the client.

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