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DU students take on prisoner's case

9:20 PM, Apr 12, 2010   |    comments
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The 57 year-old has been in solitary confinement for 27 years. He says that is unconstitutional and a group of University of Denver law students agree.

Silverstein was first incarcerated in Kansas in 1978 for an armed bank robbery. The U.S. Attorney's Office says Silverstein killed four people while in various facilities, including a guard. He has been convicted of three murders. The fourth conviction was thrown out on a technicality. 

He was eventually transferred to Supermax.

"Humans are humans. Prisoners are also humans," Tashana Taylor, a third-year DU law student, said. She is one of three working on the case.

According to the DU law students, Silverstein has been locked up alone longer than any other federal prisoner.

"Twenty seven years of anyone being in solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment," Taylor said.

Recently, a federal judge agreed they have a case.

That means DU law students will be able to continue Silverstein's fight.

"Having this as a learning experience is actually pretty amazing," Taylor said. "It's amazing to know that we can help Tommy and that at some point, he may end up being in the United States prison where he can have visits with his daughter, where he can hug her. He can see his sister and actually give her a hug. He hasn't been able to do these things in so many years."

The government put Silverstein in isolation after he was convicted of killing three people while in prison.

DU Law Students at the Civil Rights Clinic have been working on this case since 2007.

"We really are in this case the proverbial lawyers of last resort," said Laura Rovner, Associate Professor of Law at the Civil Rights Clinic. "I think that's an extraordinarily important responsibility."

Students Colin Enger, Kim Still and Tashana Taylor are finishing their turn working on this case. They are the 3rd group to work on it. Rovner said a new set of students will take over in August. She said she didn't know how many more groups will have to work on the case before it is resolved.

"It's really a chance for them to be able to practice law kind of with a safety net," Rovner said. "to learn to be good ethical responsible lawyers while they're in law school, to help students really feel the professional responsibility of representing people who may have unpopular causes, who may have difficulty accessing counsel and to really take on the responsibility of the profession to make sure that all people's voices are heard."

Students at the DU law clinic are not disputing Silverstein's life sentence. They say they are defending his basic human rights, and whether his punishment is cruel and unusual and goes against the 8th Amendment.

"If the Constitution isn't there for the hard cases, then the Constitution isn't there for any of the cases," Rovner said. "The use of solitary confinement is a very very significant issue and one that our courts and our justice system and our society need to decide how far is too far."

The US Attorneys office says it can't comment on the case because the litigation is on-going.

It's too early to say if a jury will actually hear this case.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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