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Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office
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Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  338 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
Chicago was the nation's deadliest city in 2001, recording 666 homicides. For lawyers in the Cook County Public Defender's Office Murder Task Force, that meant a steady flow of new clients. Eight out of ten people arrested for murder in Chicago are represented by public defenders. They're assigned the most challenging and seemingly hopeless cases, yet they always fight to ...more
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published April 3rd 2007 by Atria Books (first published 2007)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was ok
Several years ago, a single man just out of law school, I went to the bar with some friends and got into a spirited conversation with a young lady. She asked me what I planned to do with my law degree (I was clerking at the time) and I mentioned that I was interested in becoming a public defender. She made one of those faces like she just realized the ham sandwich she was eating was a puppy sandwich. Back and forth, we bantered about the utility and morality of providing a stout legal defense fo ...more
David Wright
Mar 06, 2016 David Wright rated it liked it
I wouldn't recommend the book for those with quesy stomachs (several homicide stories prominently feature torture and dismembered babies) or for someone looking for a romantic vision of what it's like to be a public defender. As Davis both says and shows in many cases, many of the most successful PDs do good work on a daily basis not out of a bleeding-heart sensibility for their clients who have often done shocking and disturbing crimes, but on a more personal drive for "victory" against stacked ...more
Huma Rashid
Feb 01, 2013 Huma Rashid rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. Absolutely epic. A wonderful look at the Murder Task Force in Cook County, made even more poignant by the fact that IL abolished the death penalty this year. One of the 'famous people' reviews of this book said it was THE book to change people's minds about lawyers, and that's pretty much the size of it. I posted some random thoughts about this book here at my book journal, things about juries and trial tactics and the fact that the PDs on the main case in this book were both women ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Kurt rated it really liked it
This is an intimate look at a few public defenders on the Murder Task Force in Chicago, and it's an engaging read. I am a public defender myself, and I was struck by how much more intense are the jobs of these people, who often have to defend their clients against prosecutors who literally want them to die. These characters are often larger than life, storming through courtrooms and snarling and yelling and stepping on toes and exulting in the hatred of the spectators and.. that's not very much ...more
Amanda Griggs
Apr 19, 2013 Amanda Griggs rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A fascinating look at the public defense system in Cook County, Illinois, centered around a murdered cop case and the defenders that represented the accused. My friend Huma, herself a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad she did. Getting an inside look into how the courts work, especially with these capital offense cases, and the history of this department in Chicago was engrossing. The lawyers who work as public defenders have a pretty thankless job ...more
Jun 10, 2013 Sana rated it it was amazing
Read this book. Just drop whatever you're reading (or quickly finish it) and read this book.

Seriously. This is what you call the hard, gritty side of justice, the in depth and up close facts that no one wants to know, but secretly does. You would assume by all the stories in this that book could fall into fiction, but it's real. Every detail is a fact, and every event actually occurred. The main plot line consists of a public defender working a murder case, and if she loses her client faces the
Tom Mueller
The setting is Chicago; to be precise, a setting I know all too well, the Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California. The characters are members of the Cook County Public Defenders Office; to be precise, the 'Murder Task Force'. This group is reviled by many (how can you defend such Monsters!), but they are also credited as being among the best Capital Crime Defense Attorneys there are. Devoted, fierce in the fight . . . they are a match for crime fiction writer's best litigators, comparable ...more
Feb 09, 2009 Francisco rated it it was amazing
My gf gave me this book so that I could see who I might encounter later on in my career. At one point I wanted to be a States Attorney and prosecute all of the "bad guys" thinking how much of a relief I would feel putting these individuals away. However, after reading this book I admit, I think I will be joining the dark side. A lot of the characteristics that she Public Defenders have I feel I also have those too. Granted that these Public Defenders do thier jobs pretty much for the sake of thi ...more
Mar 26, 2008 Josh rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in crime, punishment, or Chicago.
Recommended to Josh by: Amazon
Shelves: journalism, chicago
The subtitle pretty much sums up the aim of this book, which is to provide an inside look at the activities, motivations, and personalities of the public defenders in the homicide division of the Chicago courts. Personalities are a big focus as the author traces the tail of Aloysius Oliver, an accused cop-killer, and his flamboyant and skilled public defender, Marijane Plaeck.

Davis is a little too pro-law-and-order for my tastes and, I feel, wastes time continually describing different horrific
Jul 02, 2015 Katy rated it really liked it
Shelves: law
Just finished this book and found it to be very compelling especially as someone interested in pursuing a career as a public defender. I agree with others' criticisms of the book that it can be both repetitive and a bit dramatic at times. In fact, I was happy to read another goodreader's (a public defender himself) review which noted that the cases mentioned herein are much more intense and gruesome than those that the average public defender faces outside of Cook County.

From a strictly narrati
Melody Meiners
Aug 21, 2007 Melody Meiners rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, favorite
This intense story is a fascinating look inside the Cook County Public Defenders office that really gives readers a different persepctive of our criminal justice system. The story of Officer Eric Lee that frames the information provided by the author is a gripping tale that invites you to critically look at all situations before jumping to a conclusion. This should be required reading for all people serving on a jury so they can understand not only the Hollywood like prosecution but also the def ...more
Aug 25, 2008 April rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. It gave great insight to the Cook County's defense office. I feel sorry for these public defenders since they have to defend some of the worst crime commiters. They get berated by the press and the prosecuters. The crimes they talk about in here are heinous, and are nothing like Law & Order. I would recommend this book to anyone who wanted to know what it's like to defend hardcore criminals that are guilty.
Nov 15, 2009 Sheila rated it it was amazing
Anyone who believes in the rights of the accused - and everyone's right to legal representation - should read this book. Kevin Davis, a veteran Chicago journalist who I'm proud to say is also a former teacher of mine, gets nearly unlimited access inside the Cook County Public Defender's Murder Task Force - a bit gruesome yes, but fascinating nonetheless. In his words, "By raising hell, these lawyers honor the law."
Dan Zoloth
Mar 16, 2009 Dan Zoloth rated it really liked it
One of the most gripping books I have read in years. I am a slow reader & I finished the book in 6 days, which is lightning speed for me. A devastating depiction of the Cook County Criminal Court by a journalist who followed public defenders around for a year. I must caution that this is not a book for weak stomachs - the depictions of some truly abominable murders are depicted quite graphically.
David Eppenstein
While the book was well written the author was taken in by the book's primary character, a former colleague of mine. Consequently for me, the book's value suffered greatly and an opportunity to achieve something worthwhile was missed because of a lawyer's love of the spotlight.
Mar 17, 2009 Kelley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars
Incredibly graphic but so incredibly interesting and such a strange but vital part of the world...or at least the justice system. I really loved this book and thought it was WELL worth reading even with the horrible language!!
Jan 10, 2012 Pam rated it liked it
Amazing stories of those dedicated lawyers who defend those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to defend them in court. If the ugly side of life offends you, this is not a good read for you.
Jun 20, 2012 Converse rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, crime, law
Despite the over the top title, I found the book interesting. Davis mainlu focuses on one lawyer in the Cook County Public Defenderos Office, Marijane Placek, a colorful (particularly in her dress sense) attorney who works on the Murder Task Force, and one of her clients, Aloysius Oliver, who was charged with fatally shooting an undercover Chicago policeman, Eric Lee, on August 19, 2001. Because Lee was a police officer, the prosecution asked for the death penalty. Beyond this primary focus, Dav ...more
Oct 06, 2007 Jenny rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in criminal justice
I picked out and read this book for an independent study course I am taking about mitigation in criminal sentencing. I had to write a review/paper on it for my course, so instead of writing a fresh review, I'm just copying my old one (severely edited) here:

The members of the Cook County Public Defender’s office Murder Task Force routinely face scenarios that would disgust and repel many other lawyers: They fight for the rights and lives of vicious, violent killers. The task force, showcased by
Jan 19, 2016 Stacy rated it liked it
This book is good for people who want to become capital defense attorneys, or victim advocates. In other words, folks who are just starting to learn about the criminal justice system. Long time students or practitioners of criminal justice will likely not find it terribly unique.
An intimate look into the Cook County Public Defenders office, specifically the murder task force. Davis does a good job of describing the ups and downs of the job, as well as the reasons why attorneys joined the office and why they continue to serve. Davis focuses his story on personal interviews and court visits, giving the book a lot of detail on a few cases. However, I felt that he devoted to few pages to a larger view of the office (history, criminal justice system, etc). It is a good intro ...more
Nov 08, 2007 Erin rated it it was ok
I don't know, I alternately liked and disliked this book. Sometimes I found it inspiring, sometimes terrifying. If I had no experience already working in a public defender setting, this book might have really turned me off to it, although most of the accounts do seem pretty realistic. The writing style is a bit dry sometimes, since the author is a newspaper journalist, but the telling of the main case of cop killer Aloysius Oliver's trial is compelling and held my attention until the end.
Jul 28, 2009 Justin rated it liked it
some truly horrifying stories to get through in this book (and thus, not a work you'd want to re-visit that often), but otherwise not a bad look at the lives of the people working a high-profile PD's office such as Cook County. Some are sympathetic characters, some are not. The book tracks attorneys through some of their cases and provides some interesting stories and dramas to follow.
Nov 03, 2008 Nathan rated it really liked it
This book drives deep into the working and relationships of some of Chicago's finest public defenders. It provides an interesting perspective on some of Chicago's most vicious criminals in recent years. This book is written in a way that provides interview like scenarios. I was able to read through this book very quickly and would recommend to anyone interested in crime.
Sep 03, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it
Recommended to Scott by: Kitty Schultz
I really liked this book. It taught me a lot about what is like to be a public defender in murder trials. One thing I would have preferred though would be more research about the death penalty, the role of prisons (compared to other times and places), and comparisons between public defenders offices in different cities. I'd like less personal stories of cases and lawyers.
Terri Mccabe
Jul 17, 2007 Terri Mccabe rated it really liked it
Awesome book. In my opinion it's not just good because it reads well and is full of information, but also because the subjects in the book were so open and willing to give the journalist/author valuable insight into their daily lives, characters, and deepest emotions. And it's really good for any Chicagoan to get some insight into the way our system works.
Mickey Mantle
Feb 21, 2009 Mickey Mantle rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book.
A great inside look at how attorneys in the Murder Task Force of the Office of the Public Defender of Cook County defend some of the worst killers in society, or what passes for society in some of the areas the murderers come from.
These lawyers do a fantastic thankless job defending their clients and the U.S. Constitution.
Sep 05, 2007 Bob rated it really liked it
An excellent look into the business of defending the worst criminals in a large urban setting. That's saying a lot coming from a prosecutor. This is, whether it was meant to be or not, a companion to Courtroom 302, since it occurs in the same court house. One of the charecters, Julie Norman, the mitigator, is a Burlington, Iowa, native.
Jan 27, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it
Given the profession I'm in, I found this book enjoyable. It provided a glimpse into the thoughts and minds of public defenders tasked with defending heinous murders (or in my case, my opponents come court hearings..) If you have a deepened interest in the criminal justice system, I'd recommend this read.
Feb 16, 2009 Brent rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, crime
Lyle loaned this to me. It started out strong, developing the characters of the attorneys, but lost some interest for me as it began chronicling the trial itself--I did that for 35 1/2 years, so did not need to read about it again. It would likely hold more fascination for others.
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