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Defending the Damned: Inside a Dark Corner of the Criminal Justice System Paperback – September 2, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743270940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743270946
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A colorful lawyer and a cop killing are at the center of this skillfully crafted narrative look at the Murder Task Force of Chicago's public defender's office. A veteran crime reporter, Davis focuses on the case of Aloysius Oliver, a 26-year-old ex-convict charged with fatally shooting undercover police officer Eric Lee. In sharp journalistic prose, Davis portrays a variety of public defenders driven by idealism, ambition and the excitement of legal battles. At the heart of this story is Oliver's lawyer, Marijane Placek, an excellent lawyer and a character who loves "high profile, seemingly impossible cases" like a cop killing. Placek views the court as a stage where she performs before a hostile audience. Despite her best efforts to prove that Oliver's confession was coerced with physical abuse, that he didn't know Lee was a police officer and did not intend to fire his weapon, the jury found him guilty; the judge gave him life without parole. Davis ably captures the drama of the courtroom and makes a powerful case for the necessity of the often unpopular public defenders within the criminal justice system, conveying their dedication to obtaining justice for their clients. (Apr. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Kevin Davis gets so far inside the story that you would swear he was sitting right there at the defense table. With a journalist's keen eye for telling detail and dialogue, he has written a completely gripping and revealing assessment of what is not only going on in our courtrooms but in our society as well. Defending the Damned is a great and important book." -- Michael Connelly, New York Times bestselling author of Echo Park

"Stunningly real and poetically unromantic, Defending the Damned delivers us into a world of accused monsters and the complex souls who have sworn to stand by them. Davis's subjects trust him -- an astonishing result in a part of Chicago where trust disappears first -- and he hears everything they say." -- Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers

"In his remarkable narrative, Kevin Davis uncovers the true heroes of the court system. This is one of those rare books that will change your mind about lawyers." -- Gerry Spence, bestselling author of How to Argue and Win Every Time

"With a true journalist's reverence for truth and accuracy, Kevin Davis presents a raw and real version of the way our legal system works from a side that rarely comes into the light, but one our democracy cannot survive without." -- Jonathon King, Edgar Award-winning crime novelist and author of Eye of Vengeance

"Kevin Davis brings the reader into Chicago's courtrooms and into the lives of the lawyers who handle the criminal justice system's toughest cases. Defending the Damned reads like a fast-paced novel but delivers with realism and compassion a compelling, insider's look into capital murder trials." -- Alafair Burke, author of Close Case

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Customer Reviews

This book can answer that question for you.
Anna T.
Oddly, public defenders are motivated less by liberal sympathies for the downtrodden as a love for courtroom victory.
It is so well written that it is one of the 4 real adult books that I read all the way through it one sitting.
Thomas E. Ost

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Few people leave any lasting mark on the world, their lives soon forgotten. Kevin Davis, with this singular book, will be remembered long after his life is over. It may seem overwrought to compare "Defending The Damned" with, say, "All Quiet On The Western Front", but after you've read Davis's book, you'll see the comparison is very apt.

Davis takes us deep into a world that the vast majority of us will thankfully never have the opportunity to experience directly. It is the world of those who labor on the Murder Task Force of the Cook County [Illinois] Public Defender's Office. Here a small group of men and women, lawyers investigators and others, daily protect the legal rights of some of the foulest creatures to walk the face of the earrh. A mother who cuts up the corpse of her freshly murdered infant and deep-fries the parts. A man who gets his natural daughter pregnant and than beats her to death.

As one of the lawyers asks "How do you come home and explain that you just saved the life of a serial killer who smoked crack and murdered three women?"

Kevin Davis does an incredible job of explaining just that. He profiles several of the lawyers and their helpers who fighr every day to protect the legal rights of the accused - - - an incredibly important job that few people appreciate - - - and then try to keep the state from executing those of their clients who are found guilty of murder.

I am a proponent of capital punishment: those who murder deserve to die in return. It is only just. But I have a caveat: capital punishment should only be imposed when the accused has received a truly full and impartial trial, represented by highly competent counsel and provided with all the resources so readily available to the state, such as expert witnesses.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Henry Berry on June 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Kevin Davis's intellectual curiosity and witness make for an absorbing, elucidating tale about the lawyers at the Chicago Cook County Public Defender's Office. The field of criminology and the varied individuals from accused criminals to their public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and ordinary citizens who become involved in the criminal justice system one way or another are this award-winning journalist's chosen subject matter. Davis is a recipient of a Robert F. Kennedy Award for outstanding journalism who has written for USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Crain's Chicago Business and other prominent periodicals as well as legal journals.

While at a particularly gruesome murder trial, Davis became gripped by the question of "how [the public defender] and her...colleagues were able to represent clients accused of such horrible crimes day after day, year after year, while keeping a safe emotional distance and preserving their sanity." He got into the position of being able to witness how they did this by being given unprecedented access to the attorneys, related personnel, and activity of the Cook County Public Defender's Office. And he availed himself as much as possible to relevant public documents and conducted interviews with both relatives of victims and the accused, among others.

A central figure is the public defender Marijane Placek, "fifty-four years old [with] bobbed hair...dyed golden blond with streaked highlights" given to wearing "snakeskin cowboy boots...when she wanted to look like a gunslinger." Placek is the lead public defender in the case of the murder of an undercover police officer--a case which allows Davis to give much attention also to the prosecutors and the police which are other necessary parts of the criminal justice system.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Betty Fox on May 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Kevin Davis has turned straight reporting into a novel. I couldn't wait to return to "the story". Not only was I educated as to how the courts work, I learned about real people who defend the lowest form of criminality, their thought processes, their behaviors, warts and all, and the relevance of their existence. I've never given a second thought to the impact of court decisions as it relates to human beings and human behavior. It wouldn't do any harm for the criminal element in our society to read this book in order to understand how important a role the public defender plays in their life when they are at the end of their rope and even possibly think twice before turning the corner into a life of crime. Kevin Davis did a service to the community of law and order by producing an intelligent, profound, easy to read book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ralph A. Weisheit on May 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the subtitle suggests this is an examination of the public defender's office in Cook County, IL, it is really a study of a very special unit within that office, the Murder Task Force. Attorneys in this unit are responsible for defending the worst of the worst. In many cases the evidence is so overwhelming that victory is defined not by acquittal but by keeping their client from execution. While the author apparently had access to most members of this unit, the book focuses particular attention on a few, including a flamboyant defender and a particularly challenging case. A theme throughout is that the work of these defenders is an essential component of a just system. The defenders themselves often see their clients as reprehensible human beings, but they vigorously defend them because in so doing they are vigorously defending a system based on the presumption of innocence and the requirement that the state prove its case. Particularly telling is the last chapter in which the author talks to those who burn out and leave the office. I can't imagine anyone wanting to do this work, but I also can't imagine a just system without them.
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