WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Michael A. Mello, 51, a longtime Vermont Law School professor and internationally recognized authority on the death penalty and capital punishment issues, died on Sunday, Nov. 23, at his home in White River Junction, VT., following a brief illness.
As a lawyer, he was involved in a number of high-profile death penalty cases, including those of Theodore Kaczynski, Joseph Robert "Crazy Joe" Spaziano, Theodore Bundy, and Paul Hill.
He was a prolific writer, authoring dozens of books and articles relating to death penalty cases, including Deathwork: Representing the Condemned, published in 2002, and The Wrong Man: A True Story of Innocence on Death Row, published in 2001, both by the University of Minnesota Press. His book, Legalizing Gay Marriage, was published in 2004 by Temple University Press. His work with Theodore Kaczynski led to his writing, The United States of America vs. Theodore John Kaczyinski: Ethics, Power, and the Invention of the Unabomber, published in 1999 by Context Books.
He was frequently called upon for his legal expertise, having recently provided testimony during a Vermont State House hearing on racial profiling. In November 2007, he testified before a legislative committee studying gay marriage in Vermont.
He was extensively quoted in newspaper and magazine articles and in television and radio broadcasts, providing his expertise on a wide range of criminal cases. He was born on March 24, 1957 in Washington, D.C., the son of the late Ida (Goldberg) Mello and Everett Mello. He grew up in Arlington, Va., and attended Mary Washington College in Virginia, where he received his BA in 1979. He was recently honored by the college as a distinguished alumnus. He received his JD from the University of Virginia, where he was articles editor of the Virginia Law Review.
After receiving his law degree in 1982, he clerked for the firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca and Lewin in Washington, D.C., and for Judge Robert S. Vance of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Birmingham, Ala. From 1983 to 1985 he served as assistant public defender for the Capital Appeals Division of the Florida Public Defender, West Palm Beach, before serving as senior assistant for the Office of Capital Collateral Representative for the State of Florida in Tallahassee. He served as co-chair of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Committee of the Florida Bar and as chair of its Capital Punishment Subcommittee. From 1987 to 1988, he served as an associate in the firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, Washington, D.C., and concurrently taught a capital punishment seminar at the University of Maryland School of Law. In 1988, he joined the Vermont Law School faculty, where he most recently taught Constitutional Criminal Procedure and a seminar on Capital Punishment.
He is survived by his wife, Deanna (Peterson) Mello, a graduate of Vermont Law School, whom he married in 1995; two aunts, Mary Amaral and Agnes Amaral of East Providence, R.I., and many cousins.
Calling hours will be held Tuesday, Dec. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Knight Funeral Home in White River Junction. A memorial service will be held in Rollins Chapel in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 11 a.m. Vermont Law School will also hold a memorial celebration in late January.
Donations in his memory may be sent to the Loan Repayment Assistance Program for Vermont Law School students involved in criminal defense work. Checks, payable to “Vermont Law School, Mello LRAP,” can be sent to VLS, P.O. Box 96, Chelsea Street, South Royalton, VT. 05068.