Vermont Law School Professor Michael Mello dies

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(Host) Michael Mello, a prominent member of the Vermont Law School faculty, has died.

Mello was known for his expertise on the death penalty.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

Sneyd) Mello spent his early career in the 1980s as a public defender in Florida’s capital appeals division. His clients were people sentenced to death.

He became such an expert on the subject that he was called for advice on some of the most prominent capital cases over the years – Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and serial murderer Ted Bundy among them.

His overarching concern was that mistakes might be made – errors that could never be corrected when the punishment is death.

That’s what Mello worried about three years ago when a legislator proposed reviving capital punishment in Vermont.

(Mello) "We have alternatives that don’t require us to pay the social cost that capital punishment require us to pay including the omnipresent risk that we’re going to make mistakes. Capital punishment is a government operation. It’s the IRS with the power to kill you."

(Sneyd) Vermont Law School Dean Geoff Shields says Mello may have been an undisputed expert on death penalty cases.
But Shields says Mello was dedicated to protecting people accused of any crime, regardless of the punishment.

(Shields) “He had a very strong passion for protecting the innocent for the unfairness of the whole justice process, which so often in his view trapped people who were not guilty. And so he was an advocate for change and that advocacy and passion came through with his students and really made him a very good teacher.”

(Sneyd) Mello had wide interests when it came to the law.
In 2000, he compiled a lengthy analysis of Vermont’s civil unions law.

A year before that, he weighed in on the charges that led to President Clinton’s impeachment. He wrote in the National Law Journal that the president should just plead no contest.

And earlier this year he urged a panel to think long and hard about racial profiling in Vermont.

(Mello) “It’s ironic, given Vermont’s history on matters of racial justice, gender justice that we are among the last states in the country to take racial profiling seriously.”

(Sneyd) The law school says Mello died at home in White River Junction over the weekend after a short illness. He was 51.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

AP Phoyo/Toby Talbot

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