NASAMS Executive Committee

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Founded in 1992, the National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates & Mitigation Specialists (NASAMS) is the only national organization devoted to the educational and professional development of sentencing advocates and mitigation specialists. Contact the NASAMS Executive Committee to learn more about our organization and our profession.


NASAMS Chairperson

Senior Investigator, Southern Center for Human Rights

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Sarah Forte is the Senior Investigator at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. She joined SCHR in June 2006 upon graduating from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she worked for the Medill Innocence Project investigating possible wrongful murder convictions and other miscarriages of justice.  At SCHR, Sarah investigates death penalty cases at the trial level and in post-conviction proceedings. Sarah has been on the faculty of numerous national trainings for public defenders and other legal professionals engaged in sentencing work. In July 2015, Sarah became a member of the Executive Committee of the National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists.


NASAMS Vice Chairperson

Dworkin Investigations, LLC.

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Samuel Wiita Dworkin is a Mitigation Specialist and Investigator with over 15 years of experience in Capital and Criminal Defense, working on sentencing, and merits investigations, as well as juvenile re-sentencing cases, at the state and federal level in all stages (pre-trial, habeas and post-conviction, re-sentencings, etc). He is published as a co-author of the chapter “Capital Case Sentencing Evaluations” in the textbook Inside Forensic Psychology, and from the Fall of 2013 - 2017, he was also an Adjunct Professor, co-teaching the course “The Death Penalty and Mitigation” to graduate level students at Marymount University’s department of Forensic and Legal Psychology. Sam has worked on over 30 capital murder cases, numerous serious felony cases, and several juvenile re-sentencing cases.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King, Jr.


NASAMS Treasurer

Bowman-Rivas Consulting, LLC

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Rebecca holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MSW from the University of Maryland-Baltimore.  She worked with homeless individuals with serious and persistent mental illness after college.  As a social work student, she trained in a maximum security forensics hospital and a treatment-oriented prison.  She worked for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender for several years after graduate school, doing mitigation and alternative sentencing with felony defendants in Baltimore City.  Since 2002, she has worked at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, running the Law & Social Work Services Program, providing social work services for Law Clinic Clients and training graduate student interns.  The scope of practice at the Clinic is broad and includes immigration cases, services to persons living with HIV/AIDS, tax and consumer advocacy clinic, and a number of criminal justice-related clinics.  Students also provide brief advice and referrals to a twice-a-week walk-in legal clinic, staffed by law students and volunteer attorneys.  Since January, 2013, she has supervised the “Unger Project”, which provides release planning and post-release case management for individuals who served 35-50 years in prison. Since 2004, she has maintained Bowman-Rivas Consulting, LLC, a private practice focusing on forensic social work in state and federal cases.  Services are provided in adult and juvenile courts, at all stages of a case, from pretrial to post-conviction, and include evaluation and assessment, release planning, sentencing advocacy, mitigation and expert testimony.  Types of matters range from misdemeanors to felonies, including capital cases.

Katherine Mayer, M.A., CCDI

NASAMS Secretary

Death Penalty Mitigation Specialist and Board-Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, Mayer Consulting, LLC.

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Katherine M. Mayer received a Masters in Forensic Psychology while interning with the Capital Defender of Northern Virginia. She worked as a Mitigation Specialist with the Public Defender of Miami-Dade’s Capital Litigation Unit.

In 2012, Katherine established Mayer Consulting which focused primarily on death penalty mitigation. Over the years, Katherine recognized the need for her to provide a full spectrum of services from fact investigation through sentencing. Katherine’s vision was to offer attorneys the benefit of being able to rely on one firm for their criminal defense needs.

Katherine is licensed in private investigation and in 2017 she became the first woman in Texas to obtain a board certification in criminal defense investigation. She holds a certificate in process serving, Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and is a notary.


NASAMS Corresponding Secretary

Smith Consulting Group, LLC

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A Forensic and Clinical Social Worker, Denise Smith launched Smith Consulting Group, LLC in 2011 providing forensic social work focused on defensed-based advocacy- giving a voice to truth and restoring dignity to the accused. Denise’s practice primarily focuses on post-conviction mitigation and indigent defense in which she prepares mitigation reports and testimony for Maryland and Federal Public Defense cases. Additionally, Denise is a mental health therapist for clients struggling with substance use disorders, and a Faculty Field Liaison for the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work.

A 2002 graduate of the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work (UMSSW), Denise Smith has refined her clinical practice in the areas of forensic social work, mental health treatment, and social work education.   In 2019, she was named Field Education Instructor of the Year for the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work.

Social justice, advocacy, social work education, and launching new social workers into the field, inspire and highlight her practice.  When she’s not mentoring budding social work interns or interviewing a client in prison, Denise enjoys traveling, cooking, and graphic design.


NASAMS Parliamentarian

Mitigation Investigator, Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia

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Ellen Shultz joined the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria in 2012 as a mitigation investigator and social worker.  She works on a wide range of cases, including misdemeanors and complex felonies.  She started her forensic career as a mitigation investigator at the Northern Virginia Capital Defender office in 2007.  During her time with the office, she worked on over 10 death penalty cases, with all but one resolving in a life plea.  She conducted two international mitigation investigations, including trips to Russia and Korea.  She has presented to the criminal defense community on various topics, including conducting mitigation investigations and advocating for clients with mental health and developmental disabilities.  Prior to becoming a mitigation specialist, Ellen was a paralegal at two civil litigation law firms in Washington, D.C.  She obtained a Master of Social Work degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.


SKW Consulting, LLC

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Shannon Keyes Woodward, MSW, LCSW received her BA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and her MSW from the University of Maryland.  Her areas of specialization are capital mitigation development, mental health defense strategy, and community networking/ outreach. Ms. Woodward has previously held positions in the Maryland Public Defender’s Felony Trial Unit (Baltimore); Capital Trial Assistance Unit (Chicago); and the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission (Alexandria). Ms. Woodward was appointed to the NASAMS Executive Committee in 2014 and has presented at local and national conferences. After nearly 12 years in public service, Ms. Woodward started her own private practice in 2016 for mitigation and sentencing advocacy. She is currently working with public and private counsel in the development and integration of mitigation evidence and themes in several capital cases and JLWOP resentencings.


Director of Client Resources and Mitigation Services, Federal Defenders of New York

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Vivianne earned her Master of Science in Social Work at Columbia University School of Social Work in New York and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at New York University. She is a licensed by the State of New York with a Master of Social Work. She is the Director of Client Resources and Mitigation Services with the Federal Defenders of New York in Brooklyn. Vivianne has been a presenter, panelist and faculty member at a variety of conferences and workshops regarding social work, restorative justice, non-capital sentencing mitigation, and other topics.


Mitigation Specialist, Private Practice

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Charity Laister is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in the State of Alabama. Ms. Laister has over ten years of social work experience. Throughout her social work career she has practiced directly with individuals, served as a social work supervisor, and served as an administrator for social work and behavioral health programs.

Ms. Laister earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Alabama and a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from the University of Montevallo. Currently, Ms. Laister is a third year law student at the Birmingham School of Law with an expected date of graduation in May 2020.

Ms. Laister previously served as the Lead Social Worker at the Jefferson County Public Defender's Office in Birmingham, AL. She now develops mitigation and sentencing advocacy for capital cases in her private practice.


Co-owner of Context Mitigation

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Megan Leschak, LMSW Megan is the co-owner of Context Mitigation, a firm that provides mitigation services for clients in both state and federal courts. Megan began her forensic social work career at the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore City where she was awarded a Soros Open Society Institute Fellowship to highlight for the courts the impact of structural racism, poverty, and violence on defendants.

She subsequently worked as a mitigation investigator in the Delaware Federal Defender Capital Habeas Unit and as the social work supervisor for the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender. Megan earned her MSW from the University of Maryland where she co-created the course Racism and Racial Equity in Social Work Practice. Megan has trained attorneys, investigators, and social workers at forensic conferences across the country.


Mitigation Specialist and Investigator, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Norfolk, VA

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Dr. Amy L. Hurd (she/her) is a mitigation specialist and Licensed Master’s Social Worker in Virginia. She holds an AM in clinical social work from the University of Chicago and a Doctor of Social Work degree from the University of Alabama. In 2014, Amy joined the Federal Public Defender Office for the Eastern District of Virginia (Norfolk), where she works as a mitigation specialist on behalf of clients charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to capital-eligible offenses. Amy values a holistic defense and practices with a positive regard for her clients. Prior to working at the trial level, Amy was a capital mitigation specialist on behalf of clients sentenced to death in Idaho, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Ohio. She has investigated across the United States and internationally in Austria, Canada, and Japan.

Amy has presented to legal, social work, and university audiences on topics such as mitigation practice, mental health and the law, and forensic social work. Her manuscript on the versatility of social workers within public defender offices was recently accepted for publication in Social Work. She is a former Jesuit Volunteer Corps member, occasional social work instructor, and recipient of the 2023 Milestone Achievement Award from the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago.


Forensic Social Worker, New York County Defender Service

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Lyndsay Lewis earned a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Science in Social Work from University at Buffalo. With exposure to the forensic social work field starting in Knoxville, Tennessee and subsequently to Buffalo, New York, she has now been practicing in New York City for over 7 years. Currently, Lyndsay is a forensic social worker at New York County Defender Services. She is a member of a citywide and statewide forensic social work coalition and has presented at other public defender offices around the country regarding mentorship. At NYCDS, she acts as the field instructor for all social work interns.


Mitigation Specialist and Investigator, Veral Investigation and Advocacy, LLC

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Mary Veral is a licensed clinical social worker who has spent her 15-year career advocating for people impacted by the criminal legal system. Currently she runs a private practice focused on defense-based social work and mitigation investigation for capital, non-capital, and post-conviction cases in both state and federal courts. She also serves as a commissioner for the Los Angeles County Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections.

Previously she worked as an Investigator and Social Worker with the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Los Angeles, as well as the Jails Project Coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. She earned her B.A. from the University of Iowa and her Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington.


Chief Program & Strategy Officer, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

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A life-long advocate for disenfranchised and marginalized members of our society, Crystal Carpenter has served as an advocate for education and criminal justice reform for over twenty years. Currently, Ms. Carpenter leads national advocacy work in legislative efforts to eliminate juvenile life without parole and other extreme sentences for youth. Ms. Carpenter works alongside directly impacted individuals - formerly incarcerated, their families, and survivors of youth crime - to ensure multi-directional sharing of data, information, and experiences. She also works with corporations, local nonprofits and businesses to ensure that agendas are centered around racial and economic justice. Her proximity to the issue provides a unique perspective as she works to educate and train diverse stakeholders on issues related to the harsh realities faced by incarcerated individuals and families - throughout their incarceration and upon their return to society.

In addition to her passion for social justice issues, Ms. Carpenter possesses wide-ranging data-backed experience focused on data analytics, project management, business intelligence, survey design, and programming.  She has worked to direct the implementation and management of contract and grant administrative policies and procedures to ensure that projects are in compliance with stakeholder requirements and exceed performance outcomes. She has also worked to develop and implement data collection systems and strategies to optimize statistical efficiency, data quality as well as to maintain or achieve accreditation for over forty programs across six service lines (Behavioral Health, Community Corrections, Veterans Services, Workforce Development, Housing and Homeless Services, Substance Abuse Services, and Services for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities).

Ms. Carpenter has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematical Science (Statistics, Actuarial Science and Operations Research) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her graduate studies focused on Survey Research and Data Analytics.