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January 5, 2006

OBITUARY: Welsh S. White

Welsh S. White, Bessie McKee Walthour Endowed Chair and professor in the School of Law, died Dec. 31, 2005, of lung cancer. He was 65.

A national authority on the death penalty, White began teaching at Pitt in 1968. His teaching specialties were criminal procedure and evidence.

Author of three books on capital punishment — including “The Death Penalty in the Nineties: An Examination of the Modern System of Capital Punishment” — and numerous essays and scholarly articles on evidence and criminal procedure, White has been quoted as an expert in these areas on high-profile cases in publications such as Time magazine and The New York Times.

His scholarly articles have appeared in Columbia Law Review, Michigan Law Review and the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review, among others.

Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, distinguished service professor of law and former dean of the law school, said White was a good friend, a valued colleague and a mentor.

“Welsh will long be remembered as one of the most distinguished faculty members in the long history of our law school,” Nordenberg said. “He was widely respected as one of the country’s leading experts on the death penalty. For decades, in carefully crafted books and articles, he raised questions about the fairness of the processes by which this ‘ultimate sentence’ was being imposed. Many of the serious issues that more recently have arisen as DNA testing has advanced were foreshadowed by his work. He will be sorely missed, both for his professional contributions and for his warm personal touch.”

David J. Herring, Pitt law dean from 1999 to 2005, said, “Welsh was a tremendously gifted scholar, a true leader among a very strong group of scholars and teachers. His work on the death penalty and on confessions was sensitive, highly sophisticated, nuanced and inspiring. He had developed a deep understanding of justice and fairness, and his scholarship reflected and revealed this understanding.”

White also was a popular mentor among the school’s junior faculty, a responsibility he relished, Herring said.

“But Welsh always viewed his role as a teacher as his primary concern. He constantly tailored his courses to the needs of his students,” Herring said. “I really think that Welsh would have given up all his success as a scholar if he thought it would have made him a more effective teacher.

“Everyone at the law school will miss him dearly. He was extremely well respected and well liked,” Herring added.

White spent the last 10 years studying police interrogations and confessions. In his book “Miranda’s Waning Protections: Police Interrogation Practices After Dickerson,” White examined Miranda — the U.S. Supreme Court case that established rights of suspects upon arrest — and other Supreme Court confession cases, emphasizing the conflict between law enforcement and civil liberties.

He recently had completed work on a new book, “Litigating in the Shadow of Death: Defense Attorneys in Capital Cases,” which will be published posthumously by the University of Michigan Press early this year.

While teaching full-time at Pitt, White represented indigent criminal defendants, particularly in capital cases. He also served as a visiting professor at such universities as Berkeley, Penn and Virginia.

Prior to joining Pitt’s law faculty, White practiced law with the Philadelphia firm of White and Williams, which was founded by his grandfather. A Philadelphia native, White also worked in that city’s district attorney’s office.

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1962 and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965.

White is survived by his wife, Linda, of Point Breeze; three sons, Henry, of Squirrel Hill, Robin, of Bellevue, and Ryan, of Point Breeze; a daughter, Kathryn Hawkins, of Squirrel Hill; two brothers, William, of Oakland, and Alexander, of Williamsburg, Va., and three grandchildren.

A memorial service for White will be held at Heinz Chapel at 3 p.m., Jan. 20, with a reception to follow at the law school.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Welsh S. White Law Student Scholarship Fund, Office of Institutional Advancement, 500 Craig Hall.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 9

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