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.


NASAMS Past-Immediate Chair

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James-Townes joined Towson (Family Studies and Community Development) in 2017. Professor James-Townes’ has over 25 years of clinical practice, leadership and management experience. Prior to joining the Towson family, her most recent position, was Director Social Work, Leadership and Program Development @ Maryland Office of Public Defender which as more than 800 employees. While in this position, she demonstrated her ability to help others grow in the areas of teamwork, leadership and management. She also led the agency’s social work staff, consultants, and interns.

Lori is also President of Expand-Now, LLC through this entity she is able to fulfill her lifelong passion of adding value to others. Professor James-Townes’ passion is adding value to others. She has focused her attention on personal and professional development. Professor James-Townes has developed programs that are now national models for other agencies. In 2015, The Daily Record Newspaper named her as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. As a speaker, her presence is requested both nationally and internationally to speak about: Mitigation, Storytelling, Leadership, Team Building, Implicit Bias in the Criminal Justice System, Secondary Trauma, and other clinical areas.

Professor James-Townes’ has held various leadership positions on national organizations and Boards of Directors. Her commitment to growth has been recognized as organizations have appointed her to serve as Conference Chair for several national conferences and training programs.  Lori also serves as a faculty member for the following national and regional leadership development, trials skills, and/or trainings, including but not limited to: Gideon’s Promise, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, The National Association of Public Defense, Administrative Offices of the Courts. 


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.


Assistant Chief of Adult Social Services

Defender Association of Philadelphia

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Nicole Buck is the Assistant Chief of the Adult Social Services at Defender Association of Philadelphia. She is a lifelong Public Defender who has worked as a Social Worker, mitigation specialist and supervisor for more than a decade. She has dedicated her professional career to humanizing the accused in an adversarial justice system. She has achieved many unprecedent outcomes for clients through her advocacy, written reports and court testimony. Her progressive advocacy has advanced the mission of blending the practices of Social Work and criminal defense.  She has been a valuable resource in training and program development for both legal and non-legal staff around the country. Nicole obtained an MSW in 2012 and is licensed in the state of Pennsylvania.


Senior Program Associate, Vera Institute of Justice​

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Clinique Chapman, LICSW is a Senior Program Associate with the Vera Institute of Justice.  Working on the Restoring Promise Initiative, a project anchored in restorative justice and racial justice, Clinique works to disrupt the prison system and mass incarceration.  Prior to joining the Vera Institute of Justice, Clinique was a Program Manager with the DC Department of Corrections, where she worked to shift correctional culture from the inside-out, by way of program implementation and developing a behavioral health department. Clinique’s passion and skills were honed as a forensic social worker with The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia where she spent a decade as a sentencing advocate and mitigation specialist.  Chapman Strategies & Consulting, LLC is a manifestation of the aforementioned wealth of knowledge and experiences.

Mrs. Chapman is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Howard University School of Social Work where she teaches criminal justice to the next generation of social workers.  Clinique is an Advisory Board Member for Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, a Washington, D.C. based program positively impacting the lives of youth transferred to the adult system. Clinique is a criminal justice expert with a passion for navigating systems for the betterment of those persons often forgotten but most impacted.  Clinique received her Master’s in social work (with a concentration in criminal justice) from Howard University and is a clinical licensed social worker based in the DC Metropolitan area.   


ICAN coordinator, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

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Eddie Ellis joined the CFSY team as the Incarcerated Children's Advocacy Network (ICAN) Coordinator in early 2018. In this role, he works with ICAN members across the country, connecting them to each other and with local resources. He also works with other directly impacted communities, including the family members of juvenile lifers.

Eddie, a native Washingtonian, was arrested and charged with murder at the age of 16 -- he was later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison. He served 15 years and finished the rest of his time on parole.

Eddie came home in 2006 and since that time he has worked on a variety of issues, including reentry, solitary confinement, and on behalf of people with disabilities who are in the system and coming home. He has served on the board of directors of a national legal organization, and helped with client center training for lawyers, probation officers and social workers. He is an advocate for those in the system, a mentor, and a motivational speaker. His lived experience as a formerly incarcerated person provides invaluable insight and depth into his work that allows him to connect with and engage the community he serves.


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.