Day 13: Project Presentation at NCCHR

IMG_2296Today wasn’t only our last day of school but it was also time to present the results of the past two weeks to the public. At about 9 o’clock we left the school on a bus headed towards downtown Atlanta. After we arrived there we made some final preparations and, at last, it was time for our presentations. To introduce the audience to our topic we started off by playing two recordings that had been made during our surveys, one in Germany before we left and the other while in Atlanta. After that each of the six groups came to the stage to present the findings of their particular survey, which all had a slightly different focus: ‘capital punishment & economic status’, ‘capital punishment & race’, ‘capital punishment & wrongful convictions’, ‘capital punishment vs. life in prison’, ‘capital punishment & human rights’ and ‘legacy of capital punishment’.


The detailed findings are available on our blog by following the links above. Since it was Telia and me who introduced the presentations it was an especially exciting experience for both of us. Speaking for the whole group, it was a great honor to be able to learn more about capital punishment and human rights and to be able to share our ideas in such an awe-inspiring location as the National Center for Civil and Human Rights with other people who care so much about this complex topic. Thanks to everybody who contributed to and supported our project at any stage.


Last but not least – please sign this petition to save the life of Kenny Fults, whose execution date is set for April 12 and who was sentenced to death in a racist vote!




Day 12: Finishing Touches


Today was all about finishing our project.  The day started in the library but since there were problems with the school’s laptop computers, we had to move around a little bit.

First and second period we spent in the computer lab finishing our blog posts. During second period many of the American students had to go to class and some of the Germans went with them.

Third and fourth period we spent at Ms. King’s room, who had kindly offered it to us. While the other groups were working on their flash cards, the various groups had to rehearse one after another in the hall in front of Ms. Elliott and Ms. Lorenz, who gave us some final advice on how to improve our presentations.

Tomorrow at 10 o’clock we’ll be standing in the auditorium of the NCCHR, needless to say, we are very excited!


Day 11: Project Work and School


Even though we didn’t have a field trip today, we still had a lot of things to do. On Friday we are going to present the projects we’ve been working on for the past two weeks and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done until then. In first and second period we finished our blogposts and added charts and pictures. After lunch in third and fourth period we shadowed our exchange students. All of us got to go to different classes so it was an interesting experience for all of us. After school we played volleyball and some of us watched a soccer game. And even though we didn’t have a lot of things planned it was still an interesting and successful day.


Day 10: Carter Center and Kyla Gissendaner


As usual in the morning, we met at Maynard-Jackson’s media center and then followed our students around for the first lesson.
At 9:30 am it was time to leave for another field trip, this time to the “Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum”, an impressive complex of modernist architecture in a beautifully landscaped park.
In a celebration of woman’s history month the tour of the museum began with a presentation on Susie King Taylor, the only African-American woman to publish a memoir of her Civil War experiences. After the presentation the group members were able to move through the museum at their own pace. The Carter museum offers a unique overview of events during President Carter’s tenure and does a very good job at making history come alive, by showcasing plenty of unique artifcats, such as the clothes worn by President Carter and his wife at inauguration, or a full-scale replica of the Oval Office.

At 12:30 it was time to go back to school where we enjoyed our lunch in the cafeteria and took a short break.
After that, we were able to talk to Kyla Gissendaner, a young woman whose mother was executed for the murder of her husband, Kyla’s father. This made her a member of the victim’s as well as the defendant’s family at the same time, with all the conflicts that entails. Her life’s story was heartbreaking and presents a strong case against the death penalty. We will need some time to process what we heard that afternoon.

Griffin and Fabian

Day 9: Expert Panel and Project Work


Monday morning started with preparations for an expert panel which was scheduled for 10:00 am. Members of the panel would be Justice Melton, a sitting judge on Georgia’s Supreme Court, Melanie Goodwill, a post-conviction investigator for death row attorneys, Beth Wells, a death row attorney and Susan Casey, an attorney who is active in a victim outreach program. Needless to say, we were excited about what was to come.

At first the various members of the panel explained what their jobs were exactly. Then they talked about the difficulties they encounter in their jobs. While the members of the defense teams have ended up in dangerous situations when investigating defendants’ lives, the members of the Supreme Court have the tough task to put their own human and political opinions aside and are struggling with a wealth of information when reviewing death row cases, which unlike other cases have no limit on paperwork that can be handed in by the defense.

Asked what had surprised them the most since they had begun their work, Ms. Wells named the number of false confessions that had been revealed with the emergence of DNA testing. Both Ms. Casey and Ms. Goodwill were surprised at the level of evidence and information that had been sufficient for convictions at some first trials.

All four members of the expert panel had witnessed changes since starting in their profession. Justice Melton mentioned the increased number of mental health issues, relevant to determine whether a defendant had the mental capacity to sit trial or whether they had had that mental capacity at the time of the crime. While the quality of lawyering during the trial has improved somewhat according to Ms. Wells, there is still the challenge that evidence is also used in a meaningful way, in order to make clear why certain personal circumstances in a defendant’s life are relevant to the crime and to show how they had contributed to the crime. Both Ms. Goodwill and Ms. Casey said that on the whole, communication between the different parties in a very adversarial system had already improved.

The same may be said about communication in society as a whole, where the death penalty had been a taboo topic at social gatherings 25 years ago. Dealing with interest in death penalty cases from the press is often a difficult task for attorneys. Even though every law students is taught that cases are tried in court and not in the media, it is part of any attorney’s duty to make sure that the story is reported accurately.

In recent years an increasing number of exonerations have gone through the press. This will not necessarily change the fate of current death row inmates, but the option of sentencing inmates to life in prison without parole has already led to a sharp decline in death sentence verdicts, not least because of the enormous costs of the appeal’s process.

Hence some of our experts voiced a tentative presumption that the death penalty will disappear entirely in the not so distant future.

 Dylan and Lorenz



Day 6: Field trip to Emory


This Friday most students from Atlanta schools were off due to the professional development of APS (Atlanta Public Schools) staff. So while our teachers were pondering topics such as differentiated education, the students taking part in the Maynard-Jackson-Sigmund-Schuckert exchange went on a school trip to the prestigious Emory University.

Founded in 1836 as Emory College in Oxford, Georgia, the university was renamed Emory University and relocated to the Atlanta metropolitan area in 1915. To this day, Emory has remained a private research university and has consistently been ranked among the top universities in the United States. Lavish marble coverings inspired by 19th century Tuscany and Hogwarts atmosphere in the library come at a price. Tuition, including meal plan and housing comes at 60.000 $. According to our guide Kyle, most students receive some sort of financial aid, though. The conditions at Emory are great. Apart from the library and comfortable modern residential buildings, Emory boasts world class facilities for any sort of PE activity and a cafeteria that matches the buffet in any four star hotel. We were lucky enough to be able to have lunch there, it was included in the tour.


University is a mostly serious place but there is also time for some quirky traditions, such as Emory’s unofficial mascot James W. Dooley, a ‘skeleton’ that makes regular appearances at public events. The mascot’s name and middle initial match the current president’s name, currently James W. Wagner, who also helps undergraduates move in on their first day, another tradition.

After we had gotten back from the trip many of the Americans and Germans went to Grant Park. In an exciting match of basketball between the USA and Germany the Americans had the opportunity to show us their skills. In the end they beat us 20:18. Later that day we went to a fair and watched some movies at an exchange student’s house. A great way to end a Friday night.

Jonathan and Simon


Day 5: Project work, school and ‘biergarten’

March 17 was a funny and relaxed day for us even though it started with some excitement: giving our presentations which we had been working on for the past weeks. I think that we were all nervous, but the MJHS students seemed to be pretty interested in what we were talking about. It was also good that the atmosphere was relaxed and there wasn’t much pressure on us because the presentations were just to help the MJHS students get a better idea of what Germany would be like since most of them haven’t been there yet.


After the presentations, we worked on the surveys that we had conducted the day before. We tried to figure out ‘trends’ and differences between the answers of different demographic groups as well as younger and older respondents. This was some work because we had asked around 50 people and we had to check every answer and sometimes had to start over again because we noticed that some things didn’t match well during the analysis. But it was also interesting, especially when we noticed some trends that were different from what we had previously thought.


Our school day ended with shadowing MJHS students during their various classes. Rebecca and me stayed with her student so we were able to listen to US history for one period and after that watch ballet. It was really interesting because in US history, they talked about things we had also talked about at our school a few weeks ago, but the lessons were totally different. It was hard to get all of the information the teacher gave us because the students only took notes and he didn’t write anything on his whiteboard as the teachers at our school do. We also noticed that the lesson didn’t get into too much detail, instead the lesson gave an overview of many events.

Watching ballet was also interesting because we don’t have a ballet club at our school. At MJHS, they even have a huge ballet room and practice in order to dance in front of many people. The ballet teachers were also very nice, we witnessed a great lesson in which they showed us various different choreographies.

The day ended with a dinner at a German restaurant called ‘The Biergarten’. It was funny to see the little differences in our German food and American German food. Both ‘kaesespaetzle’ and potato salad were good, but really different from what we’re used to. We had a nice time talking to the other exchange students and the American students, it was a good way of ending that day.

Alessia and Rebecca