David Dow represented hundreds of death row inmates. The vast majority were guily. Most were executerd. A few were mentally retarded. Almost all had horrendous upbringings and were severly damaged human beings. Some he disliked intensely. Some he regarded as just plain evil. And at least a few were innocent.
Dow's book sketches the reality of the death penalty in America and tells his own story -- that of a lawyer trying to stop his clients from being put to death and almost always losing. His work would seem to be stressful in the extreme and extremely discouraging, yet as Dow describes it, the reader comes to understand why it is important. In spare and simple prose, Dow describes his day to day work, his clients, and the effect his work has on his home and family life and his dreams.
If Dow himself is one focus of the book, the other is the death penalty itself. The book provides food for thought for both those who support and those who oppose the death penalty. The reality is that a lot of poor defendants don't get anything like competent legal representation, even when their lives are at stake. The reality is that racism is often a factor. The reality is that many defendants are given the death penalty on something less than airtight evidence. The reality is that prosecutors, judges and jurors are often far more concerned with punishing those they perceive or believe to be guilty of heinous crimes than in making sure they are only punished after getting a fair trial. The reality is that most of those who are found guilty and sentenced to death are in fact guilty.
But the really troubling reality is that a few of those condemned to death aren't guilty, didn't get a fair trial, and don't deserve to die. Another troubling reality is that all too often procedural rules are given greater weight than substantive fairness. Claims of actual innocence, with evidence to back them up, are sometimes blocked because they were not raised in the right court or at the right time. The incompetence of trial counsel, including famously, lawyers who slept through large parts of their clients' death penalty trials, is over overlooked, excused or justified. This is a very disturbing book. It will very surely disturb those who oppose the death penalty. It should disturb those who support it even more.