NEW BOOKS - "Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance, and the Victims of Capital Punishment"
In "Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance, and the Victims of Capital Punishment," author Richard Stack uses cases to examine three of the main causes of wrongful convictions - mistaken eyewitness testimony, official misconduct, and incompetent counsel. Stack, a professor at American University's School of Communication, based the book on three years of research conducted with the assistance of students enrolled in his public communication classes. He said that he wrote the book to "put a human face" on the issue of wrongful convictions, a concern that unites both supporters and opponents of capital punishment. "Even if you are an arch conservative, no one wants to see an innocent person executed," he observed.
Three of the four stories highlighted by Stack portray death row exonerations, including that of Greg Wilhoit of Oklahoma, and Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee of Florida. Wilhoit's case provides the backdrop for Stack's review of incompentent legal defense, while Pitts' and Wilber's cases illustrate the errors that result from racial bias and systemic corruption. In his review of mistaken eyewitness testimony, Stack tells the story of Ronald Cotton, who spent 11 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.
In addition to these four cases, Stack also recounts former Illinois Governor George Ryan's decision to commute more than 160 death sentences due to his concerns about the death penalty system. The book finally gives the perspective of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, a group of victims' family members who oppose capital punishment. Stack calls this section "the exclamation mark" on his argument for an end to the death penalty. He said, "These are the people politicians point to when they beat their chest and say we need the death penalty. But this group's position is, 'We don't want it, and if you're maintaining it for our benefit, you're way off base'."
(American (University) Weekly, April 24, 2007; Praeger Publishers, 2006) See Innocence and Books.