- Paperback: 164 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (August 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031242373X
- ISBN-13: 978-0312423735
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Is there anything new to say about whether the death penalty should be abolished? It turns out there is. Bestselling author Turow (Reversible Errors) has some useful insights into this fiercely debated subject, based on his experiences as a prosecutor and, in his postprosecutorial years, working on behalf of death-row inmates, and his two years on Illinois's Commission on Capital Punishment, charged by the former Gov. George Ryan with examining how the death penalty might be more fairly administered. This is a sober and elegantly concise examination of a complex, fraught topic by an admitted "agnostic." His views veering one way and then the other, Turow shares his back-and-forth reasoning as he carefully discusses each issue, from the possible execution of an innocent person (a serious danger) to whether execution is a deterrent (it's not). Perhaps most illuminating are Turow's thoughts on victims' rights (which he says must be weighed against the needs of the community); on what to do with "the worst of the worst" (he visits a maximum security prison to meet multiple-murderer Henry Brison, who, Turow says, "most closely resembles... Hannibal Lecter"); and the question of what he calls "moral proportion," the notion that execution is meant to restore moral balance, which, he says, requires an "unfailingly accurate" system of justice. This measured weighing of the facts will be most valuable to those who, like Turow, are on the fence-they will find an invaluable, objective look at both sides of this critical but highly charged debate.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Popular legal-fiction writer Turow takes on the divisive topic of the death penalty in this concise, thoughtful essay. A self-proclaimed "death penalty agnostic," Turow didn't consider himself an expert on the issue even during his years as a prosecutor or when he helped in the defense of some high-profile capital cases. Nonetheless, in early 2000, after Illinois governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on further executions, Turow was appointed to a 14-member blue-ribbon commission charged with helping reform the state's capital punishment system. Ryan's groundbreaking moratorium began a wave of similar actions nationwide as more and more guilty convictions were questioned, whether via new DNA evidence or an overzealous prosecutorial machine (in two key cases in Illinois, a little of both). Turow traces the recent history of the death penalty through his own experiences, and though he was ambivalent about it at the start, he comes away with definite convictions. This is not a scientific study, Turow admits, but he does supply ample notes to back up many of the claims he makes throughout the book. Also included is the commission's report as submitted to Governor Ryan. Together with Mark Fuhrman's more procedural study, Death and Justice [BKL Jl 03], Turow's reflections will spark further discussions on this troublesome issue. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Its core rhetorical strategy is to consider a few actual death penalty cases that plunge the reader into the pain and moral ambiguities of capital punishment. On the one hand, these horrific crimes cry out for vengeance. It's difficult to imagine a 10-year old girl being raped, tortured and strangled without wanting to string up the perpetrator. And yet...there's no evidence that the death penalty deters murder. The killers themselves are badly broken beings, victims of child abuse or mental retardation. Innocent men are sometimes sentenced to death: when a grisly crime is committed, juries are eager to convict someone (anyone), and some cops and prosecutors are willing to cut corners. And the whole death penalty system is arbitrary and biased against non-whites: the evidence shows that juries value the lives of white victims more than the lives of non-white victims. It's a wretched human landscape.
Unfortunately, Turow's potted case summaries are too rushed and underanalyzed to really do justice to the subject. The book feels like a long magazine article. In the end, he decided that he is against the death penalty. That's an understandable position but it was no excuse for not writing a longer, more serious book.
Memory Lane: I worked briefly as a deputy district attorney in California in the mid-1980s after I graduated from law school. Every ambitious young deputy aspired to put a "bad guy" in the gas chamber someday -- gassing someone was the ultimate box to check in a prosecutorial career. We rookies were encouraged to observe a particular ongoing capital case in order to see how the pros did the job. Everything about the trial made me wonder why I had ever gone to law school. The lead prosecutor was an ex-Marine and Vietnam vet, an uptight, creepy guy who hit on young female deputies by telling them stories about killing Viet Cong. The defense attorneys did not seem up to the job of litigating a capital case. And the details of the crime were revolting -- the defendant, a security guard, had bludgeoned a young woman to death and then violated her corpse. Until then I had been moderately pro-death penalty. But sitting in the courtoom only a few feet away from the defendant, it was inconceivable to me that he should be put to death, no matter what he had done, and no matter how many squirrels were running around in his head. I was supposed to root for his death but his life seemed sacred. I was happy to quit that job.
Not far into the book, you'll notice what looks like Turow flip-flopping a lot when it comes to his feelings about capital punishment. That's not entirely the case. While his feelings are definitely there, it goes far beyond that. Turow explores the feelings about capital punishment from various points such as deterrence, victims' rights and feelings, the race and financial status of the condemned, nature of the crimes, etc. He includes accounts of his work on the capital appeals of Alejandro Hernandez and Christopher Turner, one of whom was ultimately exonerated while the other, having been sentenced under Illinois's "felony murder" statute, a broad piece of legislation that allows prosecutors a number of opportunities to seek a death sentence for murders that might otherwise not qualify, had his sentenced reduced to 120 years in prison. He also discusses meeting Henry Brisbon, one of the state's most despised killers whose acts rival those of Richard Speck and John Wayne Gacy, in the supermax prison where the man was being housed at the time.
I praise Turow for not only doing things like these before, during, and after his work on the commission, but also for using these events to offer us these greatly varying viewpoints on a system that's clearly broken but where no one truly knows what repairs need to be done. During his work on the commission, one of Turow's colleagues, a hardened opponent to capital punishment who knew that total abolishment would and could not be accomplished by that particular group, nevertheless put forth the question of whether or not the practice should be quashed altogether. Turow, like all the others, voted on this, though that vote never made it into their later recommendations to Governor Ryan. To know and understand what Turow's vote was, you have to read the book all the way through to the end...to the very last word. Enjoy.