The lives of Appalachian clients may be easily misunderstood in the context of capital cases. This article describes my work as an expert witness providing culturally-informed life histories of the clients and narratives making their life stories meaningful. The purpose is to convince the judge or jury that there are reasons for the crime that were beyond the defendant’s control and that the defendant has the potential for successful adaptation to prison life so that the sentencing outcome will be life in prison rather than death. Cultural competency is required to fairly represent Appalachian clients facing the death penalty. Defense counsels typically bring in cultural expert witnesses to assist in interpreting the life of clients from groups outside the American mainstream. I have served in this capacity in seven capital cases involving Appalachian clients. In this article I review what is involved in cultural expert witness work for Appalachian clients in the mitigation phase of capital cases. First, mitigation itself is explained in the context of the legal system.

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