- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (October 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374128731
- ISBN-13: 978-0374128739
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #878,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty 1st 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.
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
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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.
Some of Turow's chapters are "Convicting the Innocent","Bad Faith", "The Victims","Deterrence", "Redemption", "Will They Murder Again." I was blown away to learn that some death penalty advocates can live with the notion of occasionally executing the innocent and make the comparison of childhood inoculations and driving an automobile. The overall good outweighs the risks. Turow disagrees with this logic, saying that the prospect of executing someone who is "blameless cases a special pall over the death penalty." Turow discusses with great compassion the plight of victims' families and loved ones. "What made the deepest impression on me was my eventual recognition that losing a loved one to a murder is unlike any other blow delivered in our often-cruel lives." He concludes, however, that the expressed desires of survivors should not be permitted in deciding who gets the death penalty.
Turow, who described himself as a "death penalty agnostic" when he began this study ultimately became a believer against the death penalty although he respects the judgment of the greater number of U. S. citizens who believe the death penalty should be given for the most horrific of crimes. Turow's conversion certainly came not for religious reasons. Unlike Sister Helen Prejean, he maintains if his job called for it, he could "push the botton" if the crime were heinous enough. Even though Turow comes down ultimately against the death penalty, he says "I admit I am still attracted to a death penalty that would be available for the crimes of unimaginable dimensions. . . The pivotal question. . . is whether a system of justice can be constructed that reaches over the rare, right cases, without also occasionally condemning the innocent or the undeserving." It is Turow's belief that the answer to that question is "no."
As you would expect from someone who is also a novelist, Turow writes with a great deal of flair in this insightful, well-reasoned book. Whether it will change anyone's opinion, who's to say? Everybody has opinions on abortion, gun control, gay marriage, the death penalty, etc. although people cannot express any logical reason their their views. Regardless of whether this book changes the way you think about the death penalty, you will come away from it better informed and should have an opinion you can back up with facts.