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

4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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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.

Review

"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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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 (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #867,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 17, 2007
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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Criminal defense is a difficult field to work in. A lawyer friend on bad days describes it as "standing next to the person getting convinced". However on days when the person is innocent or just looking at a sentence with no relationship to the severity of the crime, it can become a thrilling and engaging job. This book walks you through both sides of it from the eyes of some of the best public defenders in the country.

Public defenders, like their counterparts in Chicago the assistant state attorneys, log more time in criminal courtrooms in their first few years than many lawyers log in their entire lives. It is a highly specialized field of law focusing on defending people who lack the means to provide legal defense for themselves financially. The job requires a strong BS detector, empathy, a strong desire to win all surrounded by the knowledge that often you won't. Reading and following some of the best and most experienced both provides amazing insight into what this is like and shows the difficulty of this job.

The only part of the book I didn't enjoy, which I think is a natural side effect of the author working so closely with public defenders, is the cartoon-like depiction of prosecutors. Presented by the author as without emotion, you can't help but feel that the author is manipulating you a bit to come to his conclusion on who the good guys are here. That being said, still an amazing book with excellent research and well worth your time even if your only exposure to criminal justice is Law and Order.
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