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Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  531 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her care ...more
Hardcover, 265 pages
Published January 5th 2010 by Kaplan Publishing (first published 2010)
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Larry Bassett
Jan 26, 2013 Larry Bassett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, death-penalty
This is a small universe of books that focus on the death penalty. Here are a few that I have found if you are interested in doing more reading on the topic:

Angel of Death Row is moving and well written. It will hold your attention from page one. This book is an example of one way to win hearts and minds. Lyon started as a young woman on fire to change the world and she has kept that fire burning one death penalty case at a time.
When I am asked the class
Sep 24, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Susan by: Tara -- thanks!
Ms. Lyon was a public defender, is a defense attorney, a thankless job representing the people we love to hate. Her specialty -- getting people off death row.

In theory, I have been against the death penalty. It seems barbaric to kill someone in response to killing someone. I'm just not that eye-for-an-eye. But my theory is often tested when I hear of some truly heinous crime, something that makes someone seem so cruel that they do not seem human. Someone who should never walk the streets again.
Jan 10, 2010 Michelle rated it really liked it
As a general policy, I want to read anything written by a Public Defender, because I am a Public Defender. This was no exception. Much like Defending the Damned, part of this book was focused on Lyon's work in the Homicide Task Force in the Cook County Public Defender's Office.

Themes of the book include rising through the ranks as a female attorney, balancing life and work, and viewing each client as an individual (no matter their race, life history, attitude towards Lyon).

I was inspired by Ly
Feb 27, 2010 Mazola1 rated it really liked it
Knowing that you often can tell a book by its cover, I was prepared for Angel of Death Row to be a bleeding heart liberal condemnation of the American criminal justice system in general and the death penalty in particular. After all, on the cover is the subtitle "My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer," and at the top, above the title and in letters larger than the subtitle is the name of Alan M. Dershowitz, who wrote the forward.

Although Lyon's book is to some extent those things, it's also
Jul 13, 2010 Joan added it
Full disclosure: I know Andrea, I've worked with Andrea, I've represented some of the same people, I know and have worked with people she writes about in this book. But I'm going to review this book all the same.

Andrea joined the Cook County (IL) Public Defender's Office at a time when there were very few women trial lawyers, much less criminal defense lawyers. She took a lot of guff from prosecutors, judges and colleagues, but she never let it stop her. By the time she left that office, she was
Nov 10, 2014 Clif rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two words come to mind with this book, ambition and justice.

I think we can all agree that ambition is a good thing, responsible for pushing the individual to achieve. Yet it can be good for oneself and bad for others. If I say I want to be the richest person in the world, without qualification, then the means I use to try to achieve my goal can destroy lives. For ambition to be ethical, it must take others into consideration.

The ideal individual ambition, for society, is one that depends upon pr
Tara Chevrestt
Jan 12, 2010 Tara Chevrestt rated it it was amazing
I have always been for the death penalty, but after reading this book, I no longer see it as such a quick solution to America's crime rate. My eyes have been opened to a surprising world of corruption hiding behind the law. Innocent people get wrongly accused and underdogs (minorities and people of low financial means) often fail to get their side of the story heard. Wealth and social status play too large a role in determining who lives behind bars and who merely pays a fine.

Ms. Lyon begins her
Mar 20, 2013 ambimb rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crimlaw
Andrea Lyon tells the story of her life's work, first as a public defender in Cook County, IL (Chicago) and then as a private public-interest attorney litigating post-conviction claims (appeals, habeus and clemency petitions, etc.) on behalf of people sentenced to death.

As a public defender myself I can say that this is a great book that everyone should read. Although a cynic might try to dismiss this book as just another lawyer thinking her cases and life are something special, that would simp
Aug 16, 2015 Abby rated it really liked it
I really truly believe that you are more than your worst act and less than your best act. Humans are exasperatingly complicated. How I come to a decision (good or bad) is completely different than how you come to a decision. People do heinous crimes, but that is not the sum of who they are, they are people with emotions, dreams, expectations too. I am not talking about serial killers or people suffering from severe psychosis. Crime committed by the rich compared to the poor is fascinating as wel ...more
Erin Carey
Feb 04, 2010 Erin Carey rated it really liked it
Although I am no longer a public defender, I am still fascinated by the practice and enjoy discussing experiences with colleagues. So when a friend of mine recommended this book to me I was instantly looking forward to reading it. I had read "Defending the Damned" a few years back - a book based on attorneys in the same office as Ms. Lyon - and was excited about Lyon's personal take on the life she lived as a public defender on the Homicide Task Force.

Having been in similar situations myself as
Khris Sellin
Mar 20, 2011 Khris Sellin rated it really liked it
I'm all about the Innocence Project and saving the West Memphis Three, so this book called out to me (and it was free). Andrea Lyon is, as the title says, a death penalty defense lawyer, based mostly out of Chicago. This book reads like a compilation of short stories, each one describing her most memorable cases. She also sprinkles in bits of her life story along the way.
While she does at times seem a little self-congratulatory, these stories need to be told. She represents a group who in the pa
Aug 15, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Andrea Lyon is one of the most fascinating and honest women I know. When I say "know," it is with great honor that I get to be her facebook friend. Some authors really strike a resonating cord and I seek them out to actively stalk them. This is one of them.

The book contains 12 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter reads like a very well written essay that can stand alone but, as is Andrea's way, when taken as a whole with the other stories, the journey is much more satisfying.

The author begins
Sep 09, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
I was thoroughly impressed with this book and not only because I personally know the author. I think I may have found myself in even more awe of her than I already way. Andrea Lyon is a wonderful writer and the book flies by because each case is so interesting. She has devoted her life to justice of the people and fighting the death penalty. I was brought to tears with some of the stories and I couldnt imagine the amount of emotional stress she has endured.

This book brings to light how complica
Jun 24, 2015 Amanda rated it really liked it
Being a public defender is a tough job, and I respect anyone who takes it on. Having said that, I wish ALL public defenders took their jobs as seriously as Andrea Lyons! This book made me want to be a better lawyer. It also reminded me why I'm not pursuing criminal law!
Aug 03, 2010 Jenn rated it it was amazing
This was a good read. It was educational and entertaining. It highlights the career of a brilliant and dedicated woman, inspiring me with her stories that focus on humanity and empathy. Lyon humanizes death row inmates, allowing us to get a peek into their lives as well as into the criminal justice system itself. The book raises important questions about the death penalty and the rules by which it is applied. I think everyone should read this book. The writing is well done. At times, I found mys ...more
3.5 Very engaging autobiography. Fascinating stories. Helped me decide whether I would want to be a lawyer.
Teri Pre
Mar 16, 2012 Teri Pre rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012-reads
Excellent read. If you got this one for free, bump it up your list! It's great!
Jun 06, 2016 Pennylope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, although the Kindle edition was full of typos.
Tyler Storm
May 19, 2015 Tyler Storm rated it really liked it
Pretty good book but the author makes it sort of a faux autobiography. I don't really need to know all the intricate details of her life such as her failed marriage, when she stopped taking birth control, and her love of Jazz. She does provide good insight into her cases and the politics of the verdicts/trial.

This book is a good primer to the criminal justice system and what it is like being a public defender(albeit a high ranking public defender, not a low entrylevel public defender). Quite emo
Huma Rashid
Sep 07, 2011 Huma Rashid rated it really liked it
If I could go halfsies, this would get a 4.5. It's an incredible autobiography of the first woman to serve on the Murder Task Force in Cook County's Public Defenders office. (There was technically another 'first' woman but she lasted only a couple months and then quit, so the others on the task force didn't consider her a real member, and went back to hiring only men, until Andrea Lyon told the head of the force that maybe he'd just been hiring the wrong women or whatever.)

It focuses on Andrea's
Oct 02, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it
"Sometimes I think of myself as an archaeologist of social despair, unearthing, layer by layer, my clients' descent into criminal jeopardy. The innocent are often drawn into a vulnerable position by the same destructive forces. This investigation was leading, as so many of my cases did, to the critical intersection of poverty and health. Mental illness, child abuse, environmental toxins--all are damaging on their own. When they are intertwined with poverty, the result is often a hopeless downwar
Feb 12, 2010 Heidi rated it really liked it
This book surprised me by making me think and wonder. It's written by a defense attorney who has worked mainly on cases with high stakes, where the penalty is either death or life in prison without parole. I've always been on the fence about the death penalty: I don't think I, personally, could vote for someone to be killed, but I like the fact that the "bad guys" are permanently out of the way.

Ms. Lyons knows that her job isn't popular; she's one of the people trying to defend those bad guys.
Jerry Smith
Feb 19, 2012 Jerry Smith rated it really liked it
I thought this was going to be more about the death penalty per se and an account of the trials themselves. There is certainly plenty of coverage of death penaly cases but the overall impression is that the system is broken. I guess that we knew that.

Death penalties are not always sought by the prosecution, but there are certain facts in a case that make it much more likely that there will a) be a conviction and b) that the defendant will be sentenced to death.

This is a very straightforward acc
Erica Bruce
Nov 03, 2015 Erica Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-nonfiction
Excellent book. Very interesting. Excellent lawyer. A very hardworking dedicated woman. It's sad that so many personal biases of judges and lawyers make it into the courtroom. The issues of race, gender, socioeconomic class, and sexual orientation are prominent throughout the book. There's also a lot of information that never makes it into the courtroom from both sides - defense and prosecution. Like the author, I'm also not a believer in the death penalty. Overall, it's an excellent read and ha ...more
Mar 07, 2014 Lauren rated it it was amazing
I don't know what to say about this memoir. I thought I was against the death penalty before reading this book, but that has nothing on the conviction I feel now. Andrea Lyon is an amazing woman, and I wish I could believe in the innate goodness of people the way she does. 2 days ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible to smile while reading a book about the death penalty and a defense attorney, but I'd be wrong.
Joyce Donahue
Aug 04, 2012 Joyce Donahue rated it it was amazing
Every day, juries around the country convict innocent people of serious crimes. If you have ever wondered how that can happen, Andrea Lyon's account of her career in the Cook County Illinois Public Defender's Office will provide you with unforgettable, often fascinating, stories of the real people behind the headlines - and the beliefs and actions of those who work in the criminal justice system.

Lyons, an extraordinary woman whose work with her students at DePaul University resulted in Governor
Mary Whisner
Aug 17, 2014 Mary Whisner rated it really liked it
Angel of Death Row is Lyon's memoir, taking the reader from her legal education at a school that emphasized clinical experiences to the Cook County public defender's office, where she eventually rose to the position of chief of the Homicide Task Force. After she left public defense, she founded the Illinois Capital Resource Center and later moved to teaching.

Lyon reports the investigations and trials of many cases. "Winning" a case does not always mean the defendant is acquitted -- it can mean t
Apr 27, 2011 Breia rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was extremely well written (a few formatting errors on my Kindle) and well planned out. You do not have to have a law background to understand the point and yet the narrative is not "dumbed down" for the lay person.

We do not have the death penalty in WI but I thought I was a proponent of it. Why not if the punishment fits the crime and there is overwhelming evidence or admission of guilt? But this book really made me rethink my position, not in a forceful or argumentative o
Feb 17, 2011 liirogue rated it it was amazing
A really good, very engrossing book about life as a public defense attorney that specializes in murder and death row cases. I was reluctant to read this, because I figured it would be very political and dry. This is anything but dry! The reader gets introduced to some unforgettable individuals and stories, and she keeps things moving along at a good clip. This book is really hard to set down and walk away from. And while Lyon does get strident and even a little preachy about the death penalty (w ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing
Anyone who doesn't believe that our criminal justice system can be truly unfair and unjust should read this book. Disturbing case stories, in come cases of people being convicted on shockingly flimsy evidence, and/or important information being withheld from juries.

It was also interesting to hear about the changes over the years (the earliest cases she chronicles take place in the '70's and early '80's) in terms of attitudes toward issues like domestic violence and women in the workplace. In on
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“I believed, and still believe, that every person amounts to more than the worst thing he or she has ever done.” 0 likes
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