PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Often, we bring you front and center as the most high-profile criminal trials unfold with criminal defense attorneys you’re used to seeing, the ones in front of a jury. But what happens after a killer is convicted or sent to death row?
Another criminal defense attorney gets to work, sometimes, until the day their client is executed. It’s not every day you make life-or-death decisions. It’s rare that you have to at all.
But for Amy Knight, that’s an everyday thought. “The stakes are just incredibly high,” Knight said. She’s a criminal defense attorney, often for death penalty clients after they’ve been sentenced to execution.
She’s not the animated defense attorney you typically see in trial. She’d rather dive into books and documents. “I’m not a performer. I’m a thinker. I’m a writer.”
It’s why she does the behind-the-scenes work for clients filing appeals to try and live or die humanely. Most notably recently, representing Frank Atwood last year until the day he died. Atwood was convicted in 1987 of the kidnapping and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Tucson and sentenced to die.
“How do you consciously represent these people and fight for them and their rights knowing what they’ve been convicted of?” asked True Crime Reporter Briana Whitney.
“They’re human beings no matter what they did,” Knight answered. So, she spent many times visiting Florence’s death row, getting close with Atwood, who had become religious while in prison.
They had a confidential conversation a couple of days before his last breath. “He knew that barring a miracle it was the last one,” said Knight.
During his execution, Knight was in her office on the phone with the Supreme Court in case anything was filed at the last minute. And then, Atwood was dead. “It’s really hard. It took me some time to heal from that,” Knight said, emotional. “It’s something that you never get over entirely.”
Because she spends so much time trying to learn about a killer’s life, she said she believes people do evil things but are not inherently evil. “Almost everybody who has done something terrible has gone through terrible things themselves. It doesn’t excuse it. But to some extent, it explains it,” she said.
She also said in her line of work, she’s confident that the justice system can be, and at times, is flawed. “I’ve seen it break down too many times in too many ways to just walk away from this. I can’t,” Knight said.
It’s a job and career not many could do. Whitney asked her what trait or skill set somebody must have to do what she does. The answer is empathy. “You have to believe that human life is valuable,” said Knight. “No matter the human?” asked Whitney. “No matter the human,” she said.
Knight said she’s working on five active cases in the United States; three of them are here in Arizona, but because they are ongoing, she can’t say which cases or clients she’s representing.
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