Kathryn McNiel
Executive Director

Kathryn Chace McNiel is Executive Director of Texas Defenders Service (TDS), which is a non-profit organization established in 1995 by experienced Texas death penalty attorneys whose mission is to establish a fair and just criminal justice system in Texas.

TDS mission is to improve the quality of representation afforded to those facing a death sentence and to expose and eradicate the systemic flaws plaguing the Texas death penalty. TDS researches and reports on best practices in criminal justice. TDS represent clients and speak for those without a voice.

Previously, McNiel was CEO of Theater District Houston, a cultural district that advocates on behalf of seven world-renowned performing arts organizations and business owners. McNiel has also been instrumental in the success of numerous political and public affairs campaigns, including NY State Democratic Senate Campaign committee, Bill Clinton for President, Harvey Gant for US Senate, Annise Parker’s mayoral campaign, and multiple bond issues. 

She currently serves on the board of the UH Hobby School for Public Policy, including as a past chair of the Hobby Center’s development committee and American Leadership Fellow’s marketing committee. Past Board appointments include ADL, Project Row Houses, Da Camera of Houston, and Legacy Community Health.  

A Houston native, McNiel received her undergraduate degree in political science and psychology from Simmons College in Boston, Mass., and earned a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Randi Chavez
Director of Mitigation

Randi Chavez received a Master of Science in Social Work in 2003. While completing her graduate degree she interned at Texas Defender Service as a mitigation specialist. Upon graduation, she was hired as the first full-time mitigation specialist for the Gulf Region Advocacy Center (GRACE) and later worked independently as a mitigation specialist at both the trial and post-conviction levels. She then honed her clinical skills for three years as a clinical social worker in an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Austin, Texas. Ms. Chavez returned to Texas Defender Service in 2009 as a mitigation specialist.

Jennae Swiergula
Post-Conviction Director

Before joining the Texas Defender Service, Jennae was a staff attorney at the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, where she represented death-sentenced prisoners in Texas in their state habeas proceedings. Prior to joining the OCFW, she was a staff attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, where she represented clients sentenced to death and clients sentenced to life without parole as children in all stages of state and federal post-conviction proceedings. She also represented other indigent clients subjected to excessive or unfair convictions and punishment and litigated challenges to the conditions of confinement in Alabama prisons. Previously Jennae was an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York and she interned with Judge Michael H. Dolinger on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She received her J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 2008.

Robert Owen
Senior Counsel

Rob Owen is a criminal defense attorney with more than thirty years’ experience in capital cases.  A native southerner, Rob earned degrees in Comparative Literature (A.B., 1984) and Speech Communication (M.A., 1986) at the University of Georgia before attending Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude (J.D., 1989).  Since then, he has defended clients facing the death penalty at every level of the state and federal court system. His background includes six years at the Texas Resource Center, where he represented Texas death row prisoners in post-conviction litigation, three years as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in Seattle representing clients on charges ranging from traffic offenses to homicide, and more than a decade combining private criminal defense practice and clinical teaching on the law faculties of the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University.  Rob appears regularly as a faculty member at capital defense trainings around the nation and has testified before state legislatures in Washington and Texas regarding proposed changes in death penalty law. In 2011, the Conference of the Bar of the City of Paris gave him a medal to honor his work in the struggle for human rights. Among many other capital appeals, he has successfully argued four death penalty cases at the United States Supreme Court (Tennard v. Dretke, 542 U.S. 274 (2004); Brewer v. Quarterman, 550 U.S. 286 (2007); Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, 550 U.S. 233 (2007); and Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521 (2011)).

Jared Tyler
Senior Counsel

Jared Tyler graduated magna cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in 2003. After graduating, he worked for three years as Deputy Director of the Texas Innocence Network, in which capacity he represented both capital and non-capital defendants in post-conviction proceedings in state and federal court and taught a course on innocence investigations at the University of Houston Law Center. He first joined TDS as a staff attorney in 2006 until 2009, where he represented capitally sentenced clients at all levels of state and federal post-conviction review. In addition to direct representation, he regularly consults on other state and federal capital post-conviction cases. Mr. Tyler rejoined TDS in 2017. He is licensed to practice law in Texas and admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the Southern and Eastern Districts of Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gloria Flores

Gloria Flores received an Associate Applied Science Legal Assistant Degree in Legal Technology from the Houston Community College. She worked for 22 years for Transco/Williams, as a Data Entry Operator, a Gas Scheduling Administrative Assistant and as a Gas System Scheduling Analyst. After leaving Transco/Williams, Ms. Flores volunteered as a legal administrative assistant for the Texas Attorney General Child Support Bankruptcy Division before joining Texas Defender Service in 2004.

Estelle Hebron-Jones
Staff Attorney

Estelle holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a B.A. in literature from the University College London. Before joining TDS, she was a Staff Attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery.

Emily Follansbee
Staff Attorney
Prior to joining TDS, Emily practiced criminal defense in Colorado. She spent over 7 years as an attorney for the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office where she defended indigent individuals at trial for all types of criminal offenses including homicide. Emily’s practice also included successful appellate and post-conviction litigation at the state level. Emily holds a J.D. from the University of Oregon and a B.A. from Union College.
Nayeli Moreno
Mitigation Specialist

Nayeli Moreno received a Bachelor of Social Work in 2018 and a Master of Science in Social Work in 2019 from the University of Texas at Austin. During her time at UT, Nayeli completed internships at the UT Law Criminal Defense Clinic and at Texas Defender Service as a Mitigation Intern. She joined Texas Defender Service as a Junior Mitigation Specialist in 2019.

Jamie Newsome
Mitigation Specialist

Jamie Newsome received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Latin American Studies from Colgate University and graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Master of Science in Social Work. During her graduate studies, Jamie completed an internship with the Council for At-Risk Youth. She spent her final semester in graduate school as an intern with Texas Defender Service before joining full time as a mitigation specialist in 2018.

Samantha Chammings
Mitigation Specialist
Miranda Nolen
Supervising Mitigation Specialist

Miranda received her law degree from the University of California, Hastings in San Francisco in 2012. During law school, she worked at Bay Area Legal Aid providing family law and immigration services to indigent survivors of domestic violence. Following her legal studies, Miranda worked in a school, where she continued to develop her interest in empowering vulnerable individuals. Miranda went on to earn a Master of Science in Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. While completing her graduate degree, she interned at the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs in Austin, Texas. Miranda joined Texas Defender Service as a mitigation specialist in 2017.

Caitlin Purcell
Supervising Mitigation Specialist

Caitlin holds B.A. from Yale University and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas. Before joining TDS in 2018, she was a Clinical Caseworker in Austin’s Community Court.

Ashlee Wiggington
Office Administrator
Kevin Trahan
Legal Fellow
Kevin Trahan is a G. Rollie White legal fellow with Texas Defender Service. He received his B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University in 2015 and his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 2020. Before law school, Kevin was a journalist covering sports and sports law.