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The Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice Hardcover – November 9, 2004
Books with Buzz
"Killers of the Flower Moon" is a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. See more
From Publishers Weekly
After 30 years as a CBS reporter and producer, Kurtis, who now hosts American Justice on A&E, re-examines his lifelong support of the death penalty, arguing eloquently that the risk of executing the wrong person is too great to let capital punishment stand. His reflections are motivated by the 2003 actions of then governor George Ryan of Illinois, a conservative Republican who commuted the sentences of the state's 164 death row inmates. Ryan's actions followed the exoneration through DNA evidence of 13 death row inmates. Kurtis frames his argument around two trials in which the wrong men were first convicted and then exonerated. Kurtis puts his reportorial skills to work, reconstructing in detail one case involving a brutal rape/murder, and another the stabbing of a mother, her two children and another child. Kurtis uses graphic, deeply disturbing descriptions of these murders as bases for arguing that inconceivable acts of violence can create a visceral sense that the death penalty is justified. Kurtis's refusal to shrink from this reality makes his indictment all the more compelling. This is not a book about abstract notions or legal technicalities; Kurtis examines our criminal justice system and finds it too "rife with the potential for error... to make death its product."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Media celebrity and attorney Kurtis presents a carefully crafted perspective on the current state of the death penalty in America. Starting with Illinois governor George Ryan's sudden mass emptying of that state's death row, Kurtis goes on to present two case studies that illustrate the legal problems with capital punishment as currently executed in America. By choosing two specific cases, both fraught with errors in evidence, prosecutorial zeal, defense incompetence, and a host of other substantive and procedural problems, Kurtis shapes a solid, thoughtful case for his opposition to the death penalty. But by presenting as normative only these two cases, Kurtis leaves himself open to counterarguments based on other equally limited cases, such as those of John Wayne Gacy and Timothy McVeigh. Nevertheless, Kurtis' book is an important contribution to the debate on crime and punishment, and it is a strong and useful resource for students examining legal and social issues of the day. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The only annoying part of reading this was the narration. I'd be willing to gamble a week's wages that he dictated all of the content. It reads in the exact cadence that Kurtis speaks in: choppy sentences, and lots of colons. I could "hear" his distinct speech patterns, which is wonderful as a televised voice over, but a strange way to write in print.
That said, Kurtis' argument is solid and convincing. He carefully explains his own change of attitude regarding capital punishment; that the death penalty does nothing to deter killers, and that one person wrongly executed is one too many. Having America on the roster of countries who do implement this harsh form of punishment is not on par with the enlighted philosophy of liberty. Life in prison with no possibility of parole, especially a life in solitary confinement, is the most appropriate sentence for convicted murderers. Even if I didn't agree with the author, this examination of the American justice system is food for thought. The message comes through loud and clear, and I applaud Kurtis for tackling it.
Once a death penalty advocate himself, Kurtis changes his mind after Gov. George Ryan commutes the sentence of 164 men after DNA evidence exonerated 13 men (not 2 like the previous reader who couldn't stand it when people falsify info in book reviews said, haha). After hearing about these events, Kurtis looked deep into the judicial system to discover why so many men on death row were found innocent. The flaws he found are listed in the book.
A good read for someone who likes to strengthen their own ideas or find out what the opposition is saying. The language is easy to understand and interesting as opposed to technical. If this book doesn't make you at least think a little, you don't think! :)
Kurtis then provides details of how two death row inmates had been wrongly convicted. The first involved a fellow Phoenix-area resident - Ray Krone, found guilty in 1992 of murder on the basis of bite marks on the victim that supposedly matched Krone's teeth. Krone was sentenced to death. (There were no supporting fingerprints, and Krone had an alibi via a friend.)
Fortunately for Krone, a cousin who worked with dentists took interest in the case, and showed the bite-mark evidence to a forensic expert who immediately concluded that there was no match. Starting with an affidavit to that effect, the cousin then began efforts for a new trial, which was granted on the basis that the first trial's "bite-mark expert video" had been introduced too late for adequate defense review. In the subsequent retrial it was also brought out that the original prosecution bite-mark "expert" was actually a novice, and that his mentor had also concluded that Krone's teeth did not match. (This information had been kept from Krone's defense.) Nonetheless, Krone was again convicted, though this time the judge had doubts and sentenced him to life in prison.
Finally, after additional defense efforts, new DNA testing techniques were brought to bear on a previously untested piece of the victim's clothing. This time the results completely exonerated Krone, and identified the real killer (already in prison).
The "good news" is that Ray became the 100th person freed from death row since 1973; the "bad news" that he had spent about ten years in prison, and it required the strong efforts of relatives and about $120,000 from them for legal research.
Other common major problems cited in the book include inexperienced defense lawyers, prosecutors who lied or suppressed evidence, unreliable eyewitnesses, jailhouse informants trading "information" for leniency, and coerced confessions obtained by disreputable interrogation means.
The "bottom-line" for Kurtis is that our legal system is too unreliable for imposing the death penalty.
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My impression is that Mr.Read more