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."

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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.

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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."

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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." 

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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.

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BOOKS: "The Corruption of Innocence" - the Joseph O'Dell Story

A new book by Lori St John, The Corruption of Innocence: A Journey to Justice, recounts the author's quest to save the life of Joseph O’Dell because of her strong belief in his innocence. St John describes the resistance she experienced in trying to have crime-related items tested for DNA evidence, and the international support that O'Dell attracted while on death row. O'Dell was executed in Virginia in 1997. Among those who had expressed doubts about O'Dell's guilt were three Justices of the Supreme Court. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, who attended O'Dell's execution, praised the book, “This amazing story of a woman's valiant attempts to save an innocent man from execution might seem like a hyped-up, overwrought suspense novel. But everything told in these pages actually happened. Fasten your seat belt. It's going to take you for quite a ride.”

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BOOKS: "A Wild Justice" Explores the Cases and Politics That Led to Today's Death Penalty

In his new book, A Wild Justice, Evan J. Mandery (pictured) explores the political complexities and personalities that led to the Supreme Court's decisions in Furman v. Georgia--striking down the death penalty in 1972--and Gregg v. Georgia--allowing it to resume in 1976.  He describes in great detail the work of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the gifted attorneys, such as Anthony Amsterdam, who led the way through this groundbreaking period. Mandery summarizes the struggles this way: "The death penalty war, which continues today, would prove as heartrending and byzantine as any prolonged military campaign. It would be fought in every imaginable forum, from the lowest tribunal in remote Alabama to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. It would be fought at the federal level and in almost every state. It would be fought in the streets and in the ivory tower of the academy. These scholarly battles could themselves have consumed several lifetimes, as the abolitionists sought to collect and marshal data to address the various factual issues that would shape public and judicial opinion."

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BOOKS: "Women Who Kill Men"--An Historical and Social Analysis

Women Who Kill Men: California Courts, Gender, and the Press examines the role that gender played in the trials of women accused of murder in California between 1870-1958. The authors trace the changing views of the public towards women and how these views may have affected the outcomes of the cases. Some defendants faced the death penalty and were executed; some were spared. Often the public was deeply fascinated with all aspects of the trial and punishment. The book, written by Gordon Morris Bakken and Brenda Farrington, provides in-depth details of 18 murder trials through court records and news coverage. 

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BOOKS: "Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America"

A new book by Kathleen Cairns explores the intriguing story of Barbara Graham, who was executed for murder in California in 1955, and whose case became a touchstone in the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America, Cairns examines how different narratives portrayed Graham, with prosecutors describing her as mysterious and seductive, while some of the media emphasized Graham's abusive and lonely childhood. The book also describes how Graham’s case became crucial to the death-penalty abolitionists of the time, as questions of guilt were used to raise awareness of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the death penalty.

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RESOURCES: "Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases"

A new international manual covering psychiatric and psychological issues arising in capital cases has been prepared by a team of forensic psychiatrists for use by attorneys, judges, and mental health officials. The Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases sets out model structures for psychiatric assessment and report writing for every stage of a death penalty case, from pre-trial to execution. It also discusses ethical issues, particularly with regard to an inmate's competence to be executed. The handbook is published by The Death Penalty Project (DPP) and Forensic Psychiatry Chambers, both based in England. It is available online or in print from DPP.

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