BOOKS: Quest for Justice - Defending the Damned

In his book, "Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned," Richard Jaffe explores the problems of the American death penalty system through his experience as a capital defense attorney in Alabama. During the past twenty years, Jaffe has helped secure the release of three death row inmates: Randall Padgett and Gary Drinkard, who were fully exonerated, and James Cochran, who was cleared of murder charges, but pleaded guilty to a related robbery charge. In his book, Jaffe wrote, "I always keep in mind the maxim that history will judge a society by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. Although most would assume that applies to the poor and the elderly, all one has to do is look at those who end up on death row: an overwhelming number are poor, disenfranchised and suffer from some mental defect or even brain damage." Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., a Harvard Law Professor, said of Quest for Justice, "This book tells the stories of people once convicted and sentenced to death and later acquitted of the same charges. It tells how it happened, shows the criminal courts are fallible and that poor people facing the death penalty may live or die depending on the competence and dedication of the lawyers appointed to defend them."

BOOKS: "The Wrong Carlos" Argues Texas Executed an Innocent Man

One of the strongest accounts pointing to the execution of a probably innocent man in recent times concerns the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed in Texas in 1989. In a forthcoming book, The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School describes his investigation into the case, along with a team of students. The investigation uncovered serious problems in DeLuna's case, including faulty eyewitness testimony and the police's failure to investigate another potential suspect. DeLuna maintained his innocence and said another man, Carlos Hernandez, committed the crime. Hernandez and DeLuna looked so similar that their own families mistook photos of the men for each other. Moreover, Hernandez had a history of violent crimes like the one for which DeLuna was executed. The book and its accompanying website provide evidence of a grave mistake with police and witness records, trial transcripts, photographs, and more. The Wrong Carlos will be released in July 2014 but is available for pre-order now.

NEW VOICES: Former California Chief Justice Questions Arbitrariness in Death Sentencing

Ronald George is a former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, who regularly upheld death sentences. However, in his recent book, Chief: The Quest for Justice in California, he questioned the geographical disparities in the application of the death penalty in the state. In his chapter, "Reforming the Judicial System," he wrote, "You could have the exact same crime, let's say a straightforward street robbery homicide, result in the seeking of the death penalty in one part of the state and not in the other, among various defendants with similar past histories and records. This, to me, raises some troubling issues. I'm not saying I find this necessarily rises to the level of a constitutional infirmity, but it may raise policy concerns about the manner in which the death penalty is administered in California." Similar disparities were highlighted in DPIC's recent report, "The 2% Death Penalty," which noted that, in 2009, only 3 counties in California were responsible for 83% of the death sentences, and almost all sentences (96.6%) came from just 6 of the state's 58 counties.

BOOKS: Robert Blecker's "The Death of Punishment"

Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School, has written a new book supporting capital punishment, The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice among the Worst of the Worst. Blecker urges readers to consider his retributivist argument for the death penalty: "We retributivists view punishment differently," he wrote. "We don't punish to prevent crime or remake criminals. We inflict pain--suffering, discomfort--to the degree they deserve to feel it." He would impose the death penalty not only on some murderers, but also on corporate leaders responsible for the death of innocent people. On the other hand, he would spare many among those now on death row because they are not the "worst of the worst." Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School called the book "an eloquent, unsparing, often counterintuitive, and sometimes painful meditation on why, whom, and how a decent society should decide to punish, and what those questions can teach us about universal truths of morality and justice."

Upcoming Events to Review Death Penalty Practice

Two events in November will examine the application of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives. On November 12, the American Bar Association will host the National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference will culminate the ABA's eight-year effort to asses the death penalty in various states, using criteria for due process established by the ABA. Former President Jimmy Carter will be a featured speaker at the symposium, along with former Texas Governor Mark White, and other legal experts and law enforcement officials. For more information, click here. On November 9, the Catholic Mobilizing Network will host a one-day conference, Where Justice and Mercy Meet, at the the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC. Prominent  speakers include Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, and Vicki Schieber, a national advocate for murder victims’ families. Panelists will discuss how Catholic teaching has evolved on the issue of capital punishment. Click here for more information about the event.

BOOKS: "Grave Injustice: Unearthing Wrongful Executions"

Grave Injustice, a new book by Richard Stack, presents a critical examination of the death penalty through profiles of individuals who were executed but may have been innocent. Their stories are used to illustrate flaws in the death penalty, including faulty eyewitness identification, government misconduct, and ineffective representation. In examining these problems, Stack writes that the possible end of the death penalty "will not be based on its immorality...but on its poor track record... and its overwhelming lack of cost-effectiveness." In the second half of the book, the author profiles prominent individuals involved in this issue, including Sr. Helen Prejean and Martina Davis-Correia, the sister of Troy Davis, who was executed in 2011. Reviewer Mary Kelly Tate, Director of the Institute for Actual Innocence, said, "Stack uses his reportorial skills to distill the complex subject of the American death penalty into a digestible form, yet he never cuts corners with the human dimension."

BOOKS: "Perspectives on Capital Punishment In America"

Perspectives on Capital Punishment in America is a collection of short scholarly pieces on the death penalty system. The essays stem from the late Justice Thurgood Marshall's belief that "death is different" and thus must be treated specially within the judicial system. The book examines issues such as wrongful convictions in capital cases, death qualification of jurors, the cost of the death penalty, felony murder rules, and the death penalty's place in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In his preface, editor Charles E. MacLean, writes, "[T]his volume offers a deeper look into many of the most troubling and complicated facets of capital punishment. The arguments herein...confront many of the death penalty tripwire topics, issues that must be addressed whether the various states retain or abolish capital punishment in the United States." 


BOOKS: Contemporary Religious Views on the Death Penalty

Anthony Santoro has written a new book about religious perspectives on the death penalty, Exile and Embrace: Contemporary Religious Discourse on the Death Penalty. In describing the book, John D. Bessler, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said, “Santoro tells the stories of everyone from death row chaplains to bloggers and Bible study participants. In discussing transgression, retribution, and ‘the other,’ he skillfully demonstrates how executions say more about us than about the offenders.” Santoro is a postdoctoral fellow at Heidelberg University in Germany.