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Staff Directory

Samantha Bosalavage – Outreach and Education

Samantha graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Sociology and Social Policy & Practice, as well as minors in Philosophy and Social Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship. She has interned at the Orleans Public Defender, the National Criminal Justice Association, and a re-entry nonprofit called Defy Ventures.

Mara Abramson - Client Welfare Coordinator and Avodah Corps Member

Mara operates PJI’s Client and Family Assistance Program. She works closely with prisoners and their families to create and maintain meaningful family relationships and provide prisoners with basic hygiene materials, educational materials, and medical needs.

Ben Cohen – Of Counsel

Ben Cohen has been with The Capital Appeals Project since its founding in 2001 and the founding of The Promise of Justice Initiative in 2012. He holds a JD from Michigan ’96, and has worked with the AIDS Law Project (RSA), the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. 

Calvin Duncan- Project Director – Light of Justice Project

Calvin Duncan is the Project Director for the Light of Justice Project and a 2013 Soros Justice Fellow. Calvin’s project focuses on reducing the procedural barriers prisoners face in securing justice for their cases.  Calvin Duncan, who was wrongfully convicted, completed paralegal training at Northwest Missouri Community College from 1992-1993 and worked as a paralegal (Inmate counsel substitute) for 21 years; nineteen years were spent working with men on Death Row. He assisted in winning the freedom of several individuals who were wrongfully convicted of crimes and sentenced to lengthy sentences. He is currently enrolled in the Tulane Paralegal Degree Bachelors program, teaches GED classes, works in the community to foster prisoner reentry and consults at Tulane University’s Law Clinic. 

Mercedes Montagnes- Director

Mercedes earned a B.A. in Urban Studies from Barnard College, and received her J.D. from Harvard Law School. While in law school law school, she interned for civil rights and capital defense attorney Robert McDuff in Jackson, Mississippi, and for the Orleans Public Defenders Office. Ms. Montagnes clerked for Judge Carl Barbier in the Eastern District of Louisiana and Judge Roger Gregory at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for the United States. Ms. Montagnes steers projects which focus on inhumane conditions of confinement, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, poor representation, race discrimination, and ineffective resource allocation.  

Chris Murell - Executive Director

Chris graduated summa cum laude from Emory University (B.A. Philosophy) and obtained his J.D. at New York University School of Law. Chris was awarded an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellowship while at N.Y.U and also worked with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. Immediately prior to joining the Promise of Justice Initiative, Chris worked at the Orleans Public Defenders for seven years, including co-founding their capital trial division in 2012. Before that, Chris completed a two and a half year fellowship attorney position at the Georgia Capital Defender, representing capital trial defendants across the state. During law school, Chris worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, on federal capital trials in Alabama, and served as a research assistant for Professor Anthony G. Amsterdam.

Zain Tewalthomas- Administrative Director

Zain has been the Promise of Justice Initiative’s Administrative Director since September 2013. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of New Orleans.