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Against the Gallows
Antebellum American Writers and the Movement to Abolish Capital Punishment
Paul C. Jones
University of Iowa Press, 2011

 In Against the Gallows, Paul Christian Jones explores the intriguing cooperation of America’s writers—including major figures such as Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, E. D. E. N. Southworth, and Herman Melville—with reformers, politicians, clergymen, and periodical editors who attempted to end the practice of capital punishment in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s. In an age of passionate reform efforts, the antigallows movement enjoyed broad popularity, waging its campaign in legislatures, pulpits, newspapers, and literary journals.

 
Although it failed in its ultimate goal of ending hangings across the United States, the movement did achieve various improvements in the practices of the justice system, including reducing the number of capital crimes, eliminating public executions in most northern states, and abolishing capital punishment completely in three states.
 
Although a few historians have studied the antebellum movement against capital punishment, until now very little attention has been paid to the role of America’s writers in these efforts. Jones’s study recovers the relationship between the nation’s literary figures and the movement against the death penalty, illustrating that the editors of literary journals actively encouraged and published antigallows writing, that popular crime novelists created a sympathy toward criminals that led readers to question the state’s justifications for capital punishment, that poets crafted verse that advocated strongly for Christian sympathy for criminals that coincided with an antipathy to the death penalty, and that female sentimental writers fashioned melodramatic narratives that illustrated the injustice of the hanging and reimagined the justice system itself as a sympathetic subject capable of incorporating compassion into its workings and seeing reform rather than revenge as its ends.
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The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume I
Jacques Derrida
University of Chicago Press, 2009

When he died in 2004, Jacques Derrida left behind a vast legacy of unpublished material, much of it in the form of written lectures. With The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume 1, the University of Chicago Press inaugurates an ambitious series, edited by Geoffrey Bennington and Peggy Kamuf, translating these important works into English.

The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume 1 launches the series with Derrida’s exploration of the persistent association of bestiality or animality with sovereignty. In this seminar from 2001–2002, Derrida continues his deconstruction of the traditional determinations of the human. The beast and the sovereign are connected, he contends, because neither animals nor kings are subject to the law—the sovereign stands above it, while the beast falls outside the law from below. He then traces this association through an astonishing array of texts, including La Fontaine’s fable “The Wolf and the Lamb,” Hobbes’s biblical sea monster in Leviathan, D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake,” Machiavelli’s Prince with its elaborate comparison of princes and foxes, a historical account of Louis XIV attending an elephant autopsy, and Rousseau’s evocation of werewolves in The Social Contract.

Deleuze, Lacan, and Agamben also come into critical play as Derrida focuses in on questions of force, right, justice, and philosophical interpretations of the limits between man and animal.

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The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume II
Jacques Derrida
University of Chicago Press, 2011
Following on from The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume I, this book extends Jacques Derrida’s exploration of the connections between animality and sovereignty.  In this second year of the seminar, originally presented in 2002–2003 as the last course he would give before his death, Derrida focuses on two markedly different texts: Heidegger’s 1929–1930 course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. As he moves back and forth between the two works, Derrida pursuesthe relations between solitude, insularity, world, violence, boredom and death as they supposedly affect humans and animals in different ways.
 
Hitherto unnoticed or underappreciated aspects of Robinson Crusoe are brought out in strikingly original readings of questions such as Crusoe’s belief in ghosts, his learning to pray, his parrot Poll, and his reinvention of the wheel. Crusoe’s terror of being buried alive or swallowed alive by beasts or cannibals gives rise to a rich and provocative reflection on death, burial, and cremation, in part provoked by a meditation on the death of Derrida’s friend Maurice Blanchot.  Throughout, these readings are juxtaposed with interpretations of Heidegger's concepts of world and finitude to produce a distinctively Derridean account that will continue to surprise his readers.
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Beyond Repair?
America's Death Penalty
Stephen P. Garvey, ed.
Duke University Press, 2003
Can the death penalty be administered in a just way—without executing the innocent, without regard to race, and without arbitrariness? How does capital punishment in the United States fit with international human rights law? These are among the questions that leading legal scholars and journalists explore in Beyond Repair? All new, the essays in this collection focus on the period since 1976, when the Supreme Court held that capital punishment, in and of itself, does not violate the Constitution. In addition to reflecting on the most recent developments in the law, the contributors draw on empirical research to consider connections between newly available data and modern American death penalty procedures.

A number of the essays scrutinize thinking about capital punishment. They examine why, following almost two decades of strong public support for the death penalty, public opinion in favor of it has recently begun to decline. Beyond Repair? presents some of the findings of the Capital Jury Project, a nationwide research initiative that has interviewed over one thousand people who served as jurors in capital trials. It looks at what goes through the minds of jurors asked to consider imposing the death penalty, how qualified they are to make such an important decision, and how well they understand the judge’s instructions. Contributors also investigate the risk of executing the innocent, the role that race plays in determining which defendants are sentenced to death, and the effect of expanded restrictions on access to federal appellate relief. The postscript contemplates the peculiarities of our contemporary system of capital punishment, including the alarming variance in execution rates from state to state.

Filled with current insights and analysis, Beyond Repair? will provide valuable information to attorneys, political scientists, criminologists, and all those wanting to participate knowledgeably in the debates about the death penalty in America.

Contributors.
Ken Armstrong, John H. Blume, Theodore Eisenberg, Phoebe C. Ellsworth, Stephen P. Garvey, Samuel R. Gross, Sheri Lynn Johnson, Steve Mills, William A. Schabas, Larry W. Yackle, Franklin E. Zimring

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"Beyond the Law"
The Politics of Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Britain
Charles Upchurch
Temple University Press, 2021

In nineteenth-century England, sodomy was punishable by death; even an accusation could damage a man’s reputation for life. The last executions for this private, consensual act were in 1835, but the effort to change the law that allowed for those executions was intense and precarious, and not successful until 1861. In this groundbreaking book, “Beyond the Law,” noted historian Charles Upchurch pieces together fragments from history and uses a queer history methodology to recount the untold story of the political process through which the law allowing for the death penalty for sodomy was almost ended in 1841.

Upchurch recounts the legal and political efforts of reformers like Jeremy Bentham and Lord John Russell—the latter of whom argued that the death penalty for sodomy was “beyond the law and above the law.” He also reveals that a same-sex relationship linked the families of the two men responsible for co-sponsoring the key legislation. By recovering the various ethical, religious, and humanitarian arguments against punishing sodomy, “Beyond the Law” overturns longstanding assumptions of nineteenth-century British history. Upchurch demonstrates that social change came from an amalgam of reformist momentum, family affection, elitist politics, class privilege, enlightenment philosophy, and personal desires.

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Capital Consequences
Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories
King, Rachel
Rutgers University Press, 2004

Those who support capital punishment often claim that they do so because it provides justice and closure for the victims’ families. In Capital Consequences, attorney Rachel King reminds us that there are other families and other victims who must be considered in the debate over the death penalty.

Combining a narrative voice with vivid, passionate, and painful accounts of the families of death row inmates, the book demonstrates that crimes that lead to death sentences also devastate the families of those convicted. These families, King argues, are the unseen victims of capital punishment.

King challenges readers to question the morality of a punishment that victimizes families of the condemned and ripples out through future generations. Chapters tell the stories of families that have lost life savings supporting an accused loved one, endured intense public scrutiny, been subjected to harassment by the media, and are struggling to live with the inhumane treatment that their loved ones receive on death row.  The author also explores the unique nature of the grief that these families suffer. Because their pain tends to elicit less attention and empathy than that of the crime victims’ families, King shows how it becomes much more desperate and isolating.

On a human level, this book is a powerful reminder that tragic events have tragic consequences that far outreach their immediate victims. At the same time, the accounts illustrate many of the flaws inherent in the judicial system—racial and economic bias, incompetent counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, the execution of juveniles, and wrongful convictions, some of which are only now being overturned because of recent advances in DNA technology.

Regardless of which side of the death penalty issue you are on, this book will lead you to pause and consider that all acts—criminal and retributive—have broader human implications than we are sometimes willing to realize.

 

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Chinese Netizens' Opinions on Death Sentences
An Empirical Examination
Bin Liang and Jianhong Liu
University of Michigan Press, 2021

Few social issues have received more public attention and scholarly debate than the death penalty. While the abolitionist movement has made a successful stride in recent decades, a small number of countries remain committed to the death penalty and impose it with a relatively high frequency. In this regard, the People’s Republic of China no doubt leads the world in both numbers of death sentences and executions. Despite being the largest user of the death penalty, China has never conducted a national poll on citizens’ opinions toward capital punishment, while claiming “overwhelming public support” as a major justification for its retention and use.

Chinese Netizens’ Opinions on Death Sentences: An Empirical Examination uses a forum of public comments to explore and examine Chinese netizens’ opinions on the death penalty. Based on a content analysis of 38,512 comments collected from 63 cases in 2015, this study examines the diversity and rationales of netizens’ opinions, netizens’ interactions, and their evaluation of China’s criminal justice system. In addition, the book discusses China’s social, systemic, and structural problems and critically examines the rationality of netizens’ opinions based on Habermas’s communicative rationality framework. Readers will be able to contextualize Chinese netizens’ discussions and draw conclusions about commonalities and uniqueness of China’s death penalty practice.

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Choosing Life
A Dialogue on Evangelium Vitae
Kevin Wm. Wildes, SJ, and Alan Mitchell, Editors
Georgetown University Press, 1997

Evangelium Vitae, or "The Gospel of Life," Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, addresses practical moral questions that touch on the sacredness of human life: abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, and capital punishment. Tackling major moral and cultural ideas, the Pope urged "all men and women of good will" to embrace a "culture of life" instead of the prevailing "culture of death." In this book, scholars from a wide range of disciplines—law, medicine, philosophy, and theology—and various religious perspectives discuss and interpret the Pope's teachings on these complex moral issues.

The opening essays establish a context for the encyclical in the moral thought of John Paul II and examine issues of methodology and ecclesiology. A second group considers the themes of law and technology, which are crucial to the way the encyclical views the specific matters of life and death. The final section turns to the specific topics of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, medical experimentation, and capital punishment.

Seeking to promote discussion between the ideas of the encyclical and other points of view, this volume does not attempt to endorse Evangelium Vitae but rather to illustrate its relevance to both private choice and public policy. It will serve as a foundation for further dialogue and allow others to approach the pontiff's thought with new awareness and insight.

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Clemency and Cruelty in the Roman World
Melissa Barden Dowling
University of Michigan Press, 2006
When the Roman democratic republic fell and the monarchical empire rose, a new vocabulary of power was needed to help balance the awesome abilities of the state to inflict harm and the need of its people for individual protection. In Clemency and Cruelty in the Roman World, Melissa Barden Dowling explores the formation of clemency as a human and social value in the Roman Empire, a topic that has been curiously neglected despite its obvious importance to our understanding of Roman society and the workings of the penal system.

In this first thorough study of the origins of clemency, Dowling provides a vivid look at the ideology of clemency and new philosophies of mercy and cruelty in Western society, through an examination of ancient art, literature, historical documents, and archaeological artifacts. By illuminating the emergence of mercy and forgiveness as social concepts, and the mechanisms by which peoples are transformed in response to changes in power structures, Dowling makes an important contribution to the study of the ancient Roman world, as well as to modern Western culture.
[more]

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Courting Death
The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment
Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker
Harvard University Press, 2016

Unique among Western democracies in refusing to eradicate the death penalty, the United States has attempted instead to reform and rationalize state death penalty practices through federal constitutional law. Courting Death traces the unusual and distinctive history of top-down judicial regulation of capital punishment under the Constitution and its unanticipated consequences for our time.

In the 1960s and 1970s, in the face of widespread abolition of the death penalty around the world, provisions for capital punishment that had long fallen under the purview of the states were challenged in federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened in two landmark decisions, first by constitutionally invalidating the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia (1972) on the grounds that it was capricious and discriminatory, followed four years later by restoring it in Gregg v. Georgia (1976). Since then, by neither retaining capital punishment in unfettered form nor abolishing it outright, the Supreme Court has created a complex regulatory apparatus that has brought executions in many states to a halt, while also failing to address the problems that led the Court to intervene in the first place.

While execution chambers remain active in several states, constitutional regulation has contributed to the death penalty’s new fragility. In the next decade or two, Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker argue, the fate of the American death penalty is likely to be sealed by this failed judicial experiment. Courting Death illuminates both the promise and pitfalls of constitutional regulation of contentious social issues.

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Crime and Forgiveness
Christianizing Execution in Medieval Europe
Adriano Prosperi
Harvard University Press, 2020

A provocative analysis of how Christianity helped legitimize the death penalty in early modern Europe, then throughout the Christian world, by turning execution into a great cathartic public ritual and the condemned into a Christ-like figure who accepts death to save humanity.

The public execution of criminals has been a common practice ever since ancient times. In this wide-ranging investigation of the death penalty in Europe from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, noted Italian historian Adriano Prosperi identifies a crucial period when legal concepts of vengeance and justice merged with Christian beliefs in repentance and forgiveness.

Crime and Forgiveness begins with late antiquity but comes into sharp focus in fourteenth-century Italy, with the work of the Confraternities of Mercy, which offered Christian comfort to the condemned and were for centuries responsible for burying the dead. Under the brotherhoods’ influence, the ritual of public execution became Christianized, and the doomed person became a symbol of the fallen human condition. Because the time of death was known, this “ideal” sinner could be comforted and prepared for the next life through confession and repentance. In return, the community bearing witness to the execution offered forgiveness and a Christian burial. No longer facing eternal condemnation, the criminal in turn publicly forgave the executioner, and the death provided a moral lesson to the community.

Over time, as the practice of Christian comfort spread across Europe, it offered political authorities an opportunity to legitimize the death penalty and encode into law the right to kill and exact vengeance. But the contradictions created by Christianity’s central role in executions did not dissipate, and squaring the emotions and values surrounding state-sanctioned executions was not simple, then or now.

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Dead Wrong
A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment
Michael A. Mello
University of Wisconsin Press, 1999
Winner of the 1998 Award for Excellence in Indexing, American Society of Indexers and H. W. Wilson Company
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Death by a Thousand Cuts
Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon, and Gregory Blue
Harvard University Press, 2008

In a public square in Beijing in 1904, multiple murderer Wang Weiqin was executed before a crowd of onlookers. He was among the last to suffer the extreme punishment known as lingchi. Called by Western observers “death by a thousand cuts” or “death by slicing,” this penalty was reserved for the very worst crimes in imperial China.

A unique interdisciplinary history, Death by a Thousand Cuts is the first book to explore the history, iconography, and legal contexts of Chinese tortures and executions from the tenth century until lingchi’s abolition in 1905. The authors then turn their attention to an in-depth investigation of “oriental” tortures in the Western imagination. While early modern Europeans often depicted Chinese institutions as rational, nineteenth- and twentieth-century readers consumed pictures of lingchi executions as titillating curiosities and evidence of moral inferiority. By examining these works in light of European conventions associated with despotic government, Christian martyrdom, and ecstatic suffering, the authors unpack the stereotype of innate Chinese cruelty and explore the mixture of fascination and revulsion that has long characterized the West’s encounter with “other” civilizations.

Compelling and thought-provoking, Death by a Thousand Cuts questions the logic by which states justify tormenting individuals and the varied ways by which human beings have exploited the symbolism of bodily degradation for political aims.

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The Death Penalty
An American History
Stuart Banner
Harvard University Press, 2002

The death penalty arouses our passions as does few other issues. Some view taking another person’s life as just and reasonable punishment while others see it as an inhumane and barbaric act. But the intensity of feeling that capital punishment provokes often obscures its long and varied history in this country.

Now, for the first time, we have a comprehensive history of the death penalty in the United States. Law professor Stuart Banner tells the story of how, over four centuries, dramatic changes have taken place in the ways capital punishment has been administered and experienced. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the penalty was standard for a laundry list of crimes—from adultery to murder, from arson to stealing horses. Hangings were public events, staged before audiences numbering in the thousands, attended by women and men, young and old, black and white alike. Early on, the gruesome spectacle had explicitly religious purposes—an event replete with sermons, confessions, and last-minute penitence—to promote the salvation of both the condemned and the crowd. Through the nineteenth century, the execution became desacralized, increasingly secular and private, in response to changing mores. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ironically, as it has become a quiet, sanitary, technological procedure, the death penalty is as divisive as ever.

By recreating what it was like to be the condemned, the executioner, and the spectator, Banner moves beyond the debates, to give us an unprecedented understanding of capital punishment’s many meanings. As nearly four thousand inmates are now on death row, and almost one hundred are currently being executed each year, the furious debate is unlikely to diminish. The Death Penalty is invaluable in understanding the American way of the ultimate punishment.

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The Death Penalty, Volume I
Jacques Derrida
University of Chicago Press, 2013
In this newest installment in Chicago’s series of Jacques Derrida’s seminars, the renowned philosopher attempts one of his most ambitious goals: the first truly philosophical argument against the death penalty. While much has been written against the death penalty, Derrida contends that Western philosophy is massively, if not always overtly, complicit with a logic in which a sovereign state has the right to take a life. Haunted by this notion, he turns to the key places where such logic has been established—and to the place it has been most effectively challenged: literature.

With his signature genius and patient yet dazzling readings of an impressive breadth of texts, Derrida examines everything from the Bible to Plato to Camus to Jean Genet, with special attention to Kant and post–World War II juridical texts, to draw the landscape of death penalty discourses. Keeping clearly in view the death rows and execution chambers of the United States, he shows how arguments surrounding cruel and unusual punishment depend on what he calls an “anesthesial logic,” which has also driven the development of death penalty technology from the French guillotine to lethal injection. Confronting a demand for philosophical rigor, he pursues provocative analyses of the shortcomings of abolitionist discourse. Above all, he argues that the death penalty and its attendant technologies are products of a desire to put an end to one of the most fundamental qualities of our finite existence: the radical uncertainty of when we will die.
           
Arriving at a critical juncture in history—especially in the United States, one of the last Christian-inspired democracies to resist abolition—The Death Penalty is both a timely response to an important ethical debate and a timeless addition to Derrida’s esteemed body of work. 
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front cover of The Death Penalty, Volume II
The Death Penalty, Volume II
Jacques Derrida
University of Chicago Press, 2017
In the first volume of his extraordinary analysis of the death penalty, Jacques Derrida began a journey toward an ambitious end: the first truly philosophical argument against the death penalty. Exploring an impressive breadth of thought, he traced a deeply entrenched logic throughout the whole of Western philosophy that has justified the state’s right to take a life. He also marked literature as a crucial place where this logic has been most effectively challenged. In this second and final volume, Derrida builds on these analyses toward a definitive argument against capital punishment.

Of central importance in this second volume is Kant’s explicit justification of the death penalty in the Metaphysics of Morals. Thoroughly deconstructing Kant’s position—which holds the death penalty as exemplary of the eye-for-an-eye Talionic law—Derrida exposes numerous damning contradictions and exceptions. Keeping the current death penalty in the United States in view, he further explores the “anesthesial logic” he analyzed in volume one, addressing the themes of cruelty and pain through texts by Robespierre and Freud, reading Heidegger, and—in a fascinating, improvised final session—the nineteenth-century Spanish Catholic thinker Donoso Cortés. Ultimately, Derrida shows that the rationality of the death penalty as represented by Kant involves an imposition of knowledge and calculability on a fundamental condition of non-knowledge—that we don’t otherwise know what or when our deaths will be. In this way, the death penalty acts out a phantasm of mastery over one’s own death.
 
Derrida’s thoughts arrive at a particular moment in history: when the death penalty in the United States is the closest it has ever been to abolition, and yet when the arguments on all sides are as confused as ever. His powerful analysis will prove to be a paramount contribution to this debate as well as a lasting entry in his celebrated oeuvre.
 
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Deathwork
Defending The Condemned
Michael Mello
University of Minnesota Press, 2002

A gripping exposé of what lawyers face when they defend prisoners in capital cases.

Legal cases are stories, and some of the most compelling-and the most disturbing-are those that take place on death row: the innocent man executed, juveniles and the mentally ill condemned to die, a smoking electric chair, a napping defense attorney, a senile hit man. These are the stories in which Michael Mello, as a capital public defender, played a crucial role, and they are the cases that make up Deathwork, a moment-by-moment, behind-the-scenes look at the life and work of a death row lawyer and his clients.

Part memoir, part legal casebook, Deathwork offers a gritty, often anguishing picture of what Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun called the American legal "machinery of death." The stories Mello tells raise questions about legal issues-from prosecutorial misconduct to the racial inequities of sentencing, from the rules of evidence to the rights of the mentally ill-that here take on a life-and-death urgency. They describe in detail how constitutional issues are raised postconviction, and how those issues are adjudicated by the courts and in accordance with bizarre claims of objectivity. And they show, with a painful immediacy and authenticity, what it is like to live and work under an impending death sentence, the adrenaline rush of the stay or unexpected success, the inconsolable sadness upon the execution of the sick, the afflicted, the innocent.As DNA reversals, last-minute confessions, and revelations of corruption are bringing capital punishment to the forefront of public debate nationwide, this firsthand account of the legalities and realities of the death penalty is as relevant as it is enthralling, as edifying as it is impossible to ignore.
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Demands of the Dead
Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States
Katy Ryan
University of Iowa Press, 2012

The first work to combine literary criticism with other forms of death penalty–abolitionist writing, Demands of the Dead demonstrates the active importance of literature and literary criticism to the struggle for greater justice in the United States. Gathering personal essays, scholarly articles, and creative writings on the death penalty in American culture, this striking collection brings human voices and literary perspectives to a subject that is often overburdened by statistics and angry polemics. Contributors include death-row prisoners, playwrights, poets, activists, and literary scholars.

Highlighting collaborations between writers inside and outside prison, all within the context of the history of state killing laws and foundational concepts that perpetuate a culture of violent death, Demands of the Dead opens with a pamphlet dictated by Willie Francis, a teenager who survived a first execution attempt in Louisiana’s electric chair before he was subsequently killed by the state in 1947.

Writers are a conspicuous part of U.S. death-penalty history, composing a vibrant literary record of resistance to state killing. This multigenre collection both recalls and contributes to this tradition through discussions of such writers as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Gertrude Atherton, Ernest Gaines, Sonia Sanchez, Kia Corthron, and Sherman Alexie. A major contribution to literary studies and American prison studies, Demands of the Dead asserts the relevance of storytelling to ethical questions and matters of public policy.

 
Contributors
Sherman Alexie
John Cyril Barton
Steve Champion
Kia Corthron
Thomas Dutoit
Willie Francis
H. Bruce Franklin
Tom Kerr
David Kieran
Jennifer Leigh Lieberman
Jill McDonough
Anthony Ross
Katy Ryan
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Rick Stetter
Matthew Stratton
Jason Stupp
Delbert Tibbs
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Don't Kill in Our Names
Families of Murder Victims Speak Out against the Death Penalty
King, Rachel
Rutgers University Press, 2003

Could you forgive the murderer of your husband? Your mother? Your son?

Families of murder victims are often ardent and very public supporters of the death penalty. But the people whose stories appear in this book have chosen instead to forgive their loved ones’ murderers, and many have developed personal relationships with the killers and have even worked to save their lives. They have formed a nationwide group, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), to oppose the death penalty.

MVFR members are often treated as either saints or lunatics, but the truth is that they are neither. They are ordinary people who have responded to an extraordinary and devastating tragedy with courage and faith, choosing reconciliation over retribution, healing over hatred. Believing that the death penalty is a form of social violence that only repeats and perpetuates the violence that claimed their loved one’s lives, they hold out the hope of redemption even for those who have committed the most hideous crimes.

Weaving third-person narrative with wrenching first-hand accounts, King presents the stories of ten MVFR members. Each is a heartrending tale of grief, soul searching, and of the challenge to choose forgiveness instead of revenge. These stories, which King sets in the context of the national discussion over the death penalty debate and restorative versus retributive justice, will appeal not only to those who oppose the death penalty, but also to those who strive to understand how people can forgive the seemingly unforgivable.

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End of Its Rope
How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice
Brandon L. Garrett
Harvard University Press, 2017

It isn’t enough to celebrate the death penalty’s demise. We must learn from it.

When Henry McCollum was condemned to death in 1984 in rural North Carolina, death sentences were commonplace. In 2014, DNA tests set McCollum free. By then, death sentences were as rare as lethal lightning strikes. To most observers this national trend came as a surprise. What changed? Brandon Garrett hand-collected and analyzed national data, looking for causes and implications of this turnaround. End of Its Rope explains what he found, and why the story of who killed the death penalty, and how, can be the catalyst for criminal justice reform.

No single factor put the death penalty on the road to extinction, Garrett concludes. Death row exonerations fostered rising awareness of errors in death penalty cases, at the same time that a decline in murder rates eroded law-and-order arguments. Defense lawyers radically improved how they litigate death cases when given adequate resources. More troubling, many states replaced the death penalty with what amounts to a virtual death sentence—life without possibility of parole. Today, the death penalty hangs on in a few scattered counties where prosecutors cling to entrenched habits and patterns of racial bias.

The failed death penalty experiment teaches us how inept lawyering, overzealous prosecution, race discrimination, wrongful convictions, and excessive punishments undermine the pursuit of justice. Garrett makes a strong closing case for what a future criminal justice system might look like if these injustices were remedied.

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Every Last Tie
The Story of the Unabomber and His Family
David Kaczynski
Duke University Press, 2016
In August 1995 David Kaczynski's wife Linda asked him a difficult question: "Do you think your brother Ted is the Unabomber?" He couldn't be, David thought. But as the couple pored over the Unabomber's seventy-eight-page manifesto, David couldn't rule out the possibility. It slowly became clear to them that Ted was likely responsible for mailing the seventeen bombs that killed three people and injured many more. Wanting to prevent further violence, David made the agonizing decision to turn his brother in to the FBI.
 
Every Last Tie is David's highly personal and powerful memoir of his family, as well as a meditation on the possibilities for reconciliation and maintaining family bonds. Seen through David's eyes, Ted was a brilliant, yet troubled, young mathematician and a loving older brother. Their parents were supportive and emphasized to their sons the importance of education and empathy. But as Ted grew older he became more and more withdrawn, his behavior became increasingly erratic, and he often sent angry letters to his family from his isolated cabin in rural Montana. 
 
During Ted's trial David worked hard to save Ted from the death penalty, and since then he has been a leading activist in the anti–death penalty movement. The book concludes with an afterword by psychiatry professor and forensic psychiatrist James L. Knoll IV, who discusses the current challenges facing the mental health system in the United States as well as the link between mental illness and violence. 
 
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An Evil Day in Georgia
The Killing of Coleman Osborn and the Death Penalty in the Progressive-Era South
Robert Neil Smith
University of Tennessee Press, 2015
"American history is cluttered with wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice.
In An Evil Day in Georgia, author Robert Smith raises lingering questions about the
guilt of two men—one white and one black—executed for a murder in the Deep South
in the 1920s. . . . The telling of this story, one that played out in the Jim Crow era and the
days of bootlegging and the Ku Klux Klan, exposes the death penalty’s imperfections even
as it calls into question the veracity of a woman’s confession, later recanted, that
once brought her within a stone’s throw of the state’s electric chair.”
—John Bessler, author of Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty
and the Founders’ Eighth Amendment


On the night of August 5, 1927, someone shot and killed Coleman Osborn, a store owner in
Chatsworth, Georgia, in his place of business. Police and neighbors found only circumstantial
traces of the murderer: tire tracks, boot prints, shell casings, and five dollars in cash near
Osborn’s body. That day, three individuals—James Hugh Moss, a black family man locally
renowned for his baseball skills; Clifford Thompson, Moss’s white friend who grew up in the
Smoky Mountains; and Eula Mae Thompson, Clifford’s wife and a woman with a troubling history
of failed marriages and minor run-ins with the law—left Etowah, Tennessee, unknowingly
on a collision course with Deep South justice.

In chilling detail, Robert N. Smith examines the circumstantial evidence and deeply flawed
judicial process that led to death sentences for Moss and the Thompsons. Moving hastily in the
wake of the crime, investigators determined from the outset that the Tennessee trio, well known
as bootleggers, were the culprits. Moss and Clifford Thompson were tried and convicted within a
month of the murder. Eula Mae was tried separately from the other two defendants in February
1928, and her sentence brought her notoriety and celebrity status. On the night of her husband’s
execution, she recanted her original story and would change it repeatedly in the following years.
As reporters from Atlanta and across Georgia descended on Murray County to cover the trials
and convictions, the public perception of Eula Mae changed from that of cold-blooded murderer
to victim—one worthy of certain benefits that suited her status as a white woman. Eula Mae
Thompson’s death sentence was commuted in 1928, thanks in part to numerous press interviews
and staged photos. She was released in 1936 but would not stay out of trouble for long.

An Evil Day in Georgia exposes the historic deficiencies in death penalty implementation
and questions, through its case study of the Osborn murder, whether justice can ever be truly
unbiased when capital punishment is inextricably linked to personal and political ambition and
to social and cultural values.

Robert N. Smith is an independent scholar living in Oxford, England.
[more]

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Executing Democracy
Volume One: Capital Punishment & the Making of America, 1683-1807
Stephen J. Hartnett
Michigan State University Press, 2010

Executing Democracy: Capital Punishment & the Making of America, 1683-1807 is the first volume of a rhetorical history of public debates about crime, violence, and capital punishment in America. This examination begins in 1683, when William Penn first struggled to govern the rowdy indentured servants of Philadelphia, and continues up until 1807, when the Federalists sought to impose law-and-order upon the New Republic.
     This volume offers a lively historical overview of how crime, violence, and capital punishment influenced the settling of the New World, the American Revolution, and the frantic post-war political scrambling to establish norms that would govern the new republic.
     By presenting a macro-historical overview, and by filling the arguments with voices from different political camps and communicative genres, Hartnett provides readers with fresh perspectives for understanding the centrality of public debates about capital punishment to the history of American democracy.

[more]

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Executing Democracy
Volume Two: Capital Punishment and the Making of America, 1835-1843
Stephen Hartnett
Michigan State University Press, 2024

This eye-opening and well-researched companion to the first volume of Executing Democracy enters the death-penalty discussion during the debates of 1835 and 1843, when pro-death penalty Calvinist minister George Barrell Cheever faced off against abolitionist magazine editor John O’Sullivan. In contrast to the macro-historical overview presented in volume 1, volume 2 provides micro-historical case studies, using these debates as springboards into the discussion of the death penalty in America at large. Incorporating a wide range of sources, including political poems, newspaper editorials, and warring manifestos, this second volume highlights a variety of perspectives, thus demonstrating the centrality of public debates about crime, violence, and punishment to the history of American democracy. Hartnett’s insightful assessment bears witness to a complex national discussion about the political, metaphysical, and cultural significance of the death penalty.

[more]

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Executing Freedom
The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States
Daniel LaChance
University of Chicago Press, 2016
In the mid-1990s, as public trust in big government was near an all-time low, 80% of Americans told Gallup that they supported the death penalty. Why did people who didn’t trust government to regulate the economy or provide daily services nonetheless believe that it should have the power to put its citizens to death?

That question is at the heart of Executing Freedom, a powerful, wide-ranging examination of the place of the death penalty in American culture and how it has changed over the years. Drawing on an array of sources, including congressional hearings and campaign speeches, true crime classics like In Cold Blood, and films like Dead Man Walking, Daniel LaChance shows how attitudes toward the death penalty have reflected broader shifts in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between the individual and the state. Emerging from the height of 1970s disillusion, the simplicity and moral power of the death penalty became a potent symbol for many Americans of what government could do—and LaChance argues, fascinatingly, that it’s the very failure of capital punishment to live up to that mythology that could prove its eventual undoing in the United States.
[more]

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Facing the Death Penalty
Essays on a Cruel and Unusual Punishment
edited by Michael L. Radelet, foreword by Henry Schwarzschild
Temple University Press, 1990
"These essays...show us the human and inhuman realities of capital punishment through the eyes of the condemned and those who work with them. By focusing on those awaiting death, they present the awful truth behind the statistics in concrete, personal terms." --William J. Bowers, author of Legal Homicide Between 1930 and 1967, there were 3,859 executions carried out under state and civil authority in the United States. Since the ten-year moratorium on capital punishment ended in 1977, more than one hundred prisoners have been executed. There are more than two thousand men and women now living on death row awaiting their executions. Facing the Death Penalty offers an in-depth examination of what life under a sentence of death is like for condemned inmates and their families, how and why various professionals assist them in their struggle for life, and what these personal experiences with capital punishment tell us about the wisdom of this penal policy. The contributors include historians, attorneys, sociologists, anthropologists, criminologists, a minister, a philosopher, and three prisoners. One of the prisoner-contributors is Willie Jasper Darden, Jr., whose case and recent execution after fourteen years on death row drew international attention. The inter-disciplinary perspectives offered in this book will not solve the death penalty debate, but they offer important and unique insights on the full effects of American capital punishment provisions. While the book does not set out to generate sympathy for those convicted of horrible crimes, taken together, the essays build a case for abolition of the death penalty. "This work stands with the best of what's been written. It represents the best of those who have seen the worst." --Colman McCarthy, The Washington Post Book World
[more]

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The Fairer Death
Executing Women in Ohio
Victor L. Streib
Ohio University Press, 2006

Women on death row are such a rarity that, once condemned, they may be ignored and forgotten. Ohio, a typical, middle-of-the-road death penalty state, provides a telling example of this phenomenon. The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio explores Ohio’s experience with the death penalty for women and reflects on what this experience reveals about the death penalty for women throughout the nation.

Victor Streib’s analysis of two centuries of Ohio death penalty legislation and adjudication reveals no obvious exclusion of women or even any recognition of an issue of sex bias. In this respect, Ohio’s justice system exemplifies the subtle and insidious nature of this cultural disparity.

Professor Streib provides detailed descriptions of the cases of the four women actually executed by Ohio since its founding and of the cases of the eleven women sentenced to death in Ohio in the current death penalty era (1973–2005). Some of these cases had a profound impact on death penalty law, but most were routine and drew little attention. A generation later, reversals and commutations have left only one woman on Ohio’s death row.

Although Streib focuses specifically on Ohio, the underlying premise is that Ohio is, in many ways, a typical death penalty state. The Fairer Death provides insight into our national experience, provoking questions about the rationale for the death penalty and the many disparities in its administration.

[more]

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Fighting the Death Penalty
A Fifty-Year Journey of Argument and Persuasion
Eugene G. Wanger
Michigan State University Press, 2019
Michigan is the only state in the country that has a death penalty prohibition in its constitution—Eugene G. Wanger’s compelling arguments against capital punishment is a large reason it is there. The forty pieces in this volume are writings created or used by the author, who penned the prohibition clause, during his fifty years as a death penalty abolitionist. His extraordinary background in forensics, law, and political activity as constitutional convention delegate and co-chairman of the Michigan Committee Against Capital Punishment has produced a remarkable collection. It is not only a fifty-year history of the anti–death penalty argument in America, it also is a detailed and challenging example of how the argument against capital punishment may be successfully made.
 
 
[more]

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The Forgotten Men
Serving a Life without Parole Sentence
Leigey, Margaret E
Rutgers University Press, 2015
Today there are approximately fifty thousand prisoners in American prisons serving life without parole, having been found guilty of crimes ranging from murder and rape to burglary, carjacking, and drug offences. In The Forgotten Men, criminologist Margaret E. Leigey provides an insightful account of a group of aging inmates imprisoned for at least twenty years, with virtually no chance of release.
 
These men make up one of the most marginalized segments of the contemporary U.S. prison population. Considered too dangerous for rehabilitation, ignored by prison administrators, and overlooked by courts disinclined to review such sentences, these prisoners grow increasingly cut off from family and the outside world. Drawing on in-depth interviews with twenty-five such prisoners, Leigey gives voice to these extremely marginalized inmates and offers a look at how they struggle to cope. She reveals, for instance, that the men believe that permanent incarceration is as inhumane as capital punishment, calling life without parole “the hard death penalty.” Indeed, after serving two decades in prison, some wished that they had received the death penalty instead. Leigey also recounts the ways in which the prisoners attempt to construct meaningful lives inside the bleak environment where they will almost certainly live out their lives. 
 
Every state in the union (except Alaska) has the life-without-parole sentencing option, despite its controversial nature and its staggering cost to the taxpayer. The Forgotten Men provides a much-needed analysis of the policies behind life-without-parole sentencing, arguing that such sentences are overused and lead to serious financial and ethical dilemmas.
 
 
 
[more]

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Hangin' Times in Fort Smith
A History of Executions in Judge Parker’s Court
Jerry Akins
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, 2012
For twenty-one years, Judge Isaac C. Parker ruled in the federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, the gateway to the wild and lawless Western frontier. Parker, however, was not the "hangin' judge" that casual legend portrays. In most cases, the guilt or innocence of those tried in his court really was not in question once their stories were told. These horrible crimes would have screamed out for justice in any circumstance. Author Jerry Akins has finally arrived at the real story about Parker and his court by comparing newspaper accounts of the trials and executions to what has been written and popularized in other books.
[more]

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The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler
A Story of Rape, Incest, and Justice in Early America
Irene Quenzler Brown and Richard D. Brown
Harvard University Press, 2003

In 1806 an anxious crowd of thousands descended upon Lenox, Massachusetts, for the public hanging of Ephraim Wheeler, condemned for the rape of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Betsy. Not all witnesses believed justice had triumphed. The death penalty had become controversial; no one had been executed for rape in Massachusetts in more than a quarter century. Wheeler maintained his innocence. Over one hundred local citizens petitioned for his pardon--including, most remarkably, Betsy and her mother.

Impoverished, illiterate, a failed farmer who married into a mixed-race family and clashed routinely with his wife, Wheeler existed on the margins of society. Using the trial report to reconstruct the tragic crime and drawing on Wheeler's jailhouse autobiography to unravel his troubled family history, Irene Quenzler Brown and Richard D. Brown illuminate a rarely seen slice of early America. They imaginatively and sensitively explore issues of family violence, poverty, gender, race and class, religion, and capital punishment, revealing similarities between death penalty politics in America today and two hundred years ago.

Beautifully crafted, engagingly written, this unforgettable story probes deeply held beliefs about morality and about the nature of justice.

[more]

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Hidden Victims
The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused
Sharp, Susan F
Rutgers University Press, 2005
"Sharp’s book reemphasizes the tremendous costs of maintaining the death penalty—costs to real people and real families that ripple throughout generations to come."—Saundra D. Westervelt, author of Shifting the Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense

"Everyone concerned with the effects of capital punishment must have this book."—Margaret Vandiver, professor, department of criminology and criminal justice, University of Memphis

Murderers, particularly those sentenced to death, are considered by most to be unusually heinous, often sub-human, and entirely different from the rest of us. In Hidden Victims, sociologist Susan F. Sharp challenges this culturally ingrained perspective by reminding us that those individuals facing a death sentence, in addition to being murderers, are brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, daughters or sons, relatives or friends. Through a series of vivid and in-depth interviews with families of the accused, she demonstrates how the exceptionally severe way in which we view those on death row trickles down to those with whom they are closely connected. Sharp shows how family members and friends—in effect, the indirect victims of the initial crime—experience a profoundly complicated and socially isolating grief process.

Departing from a humanist perspective from which most accounts of victims are told, Sharp makes her case from a sociological standpoint that draws out the parallel experiences and coping mechanisms of these individuals. Chapters focus on responses to sentencing, the particular structure of grieving faced by this population, execution, aftermath, wrongful conviction, family formation after conviction, and the complex situation of individuals related to both the killer and the victim.

Powerful, poignant, and intelligently written, Hidden Victims challenges all of us—regardless of which side of the death penalty you are on—to understand the economic, social, and psychological repercussions that shape the lives of the often forgotten families of death row inmates.

[more]

front cover of The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado
The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado
Michael Radelet
University Press of Colorado, 2017

In The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado, noted death penalty scholar Michael Radelet chronicles the details of each capital punishment trial and execution that has taken place in Colorado since 1859. The book describes the debates and struggles that Coloradans have had over the use of the death penalty, placing the cases of the 103 men whose sentences were carried out and 100 more who were never executed into the context of a gradual worldwide trend away from this form of punishment.

For more than 150 years, Coloradans have been deeply divided about the death penalty, with regular questions about whether it should be expanded, restricted, or eliminated. It has twice been abolished, but both times state lawmakers reinstated the contentious punitive measure. Prison administrators have contributed to this debate, with some refusing to participate in executions and some lending their voices to abolition efforts. Colorado has also had a rich history of experimenting with execution methods, first hanging prisoners in public and then, starting in 1890, using the "twitch-up gallows" for four decades. In 1933, Colorado began using a gas chamber and eventually moved to lethal injection in the 1990s.

Based on meticulous archival research in official state archives, library records, and multimedia sources, The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado, will inform the conversation on both sides of the issue anywhere the future of the death penalty is under debate.

[more]

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Karma and Punishment
Prison Chaplaincy in Japan
Adam J. Lyons
Harvard University Press

Despite being one of the most avowedly secular nations in the world, Japan may have more prison chaplains per inmate than any other country, the majority of whom are Buddhist priests. In this groundbreaking study of prison religion in East Asia, Adam Lyons introduces a form of chaplaincy rooted in the Buddhist concept of doctrinal admonition rather than Euro-American notions of spiritual care.

Based on archival research, fieldwork inside prisons, and interviews with chaplains, Karma and Punishment reveals another dimension of Buddhist modernism that developed as Japan’s religious organizations carved out a niche as defenders of society by fighting crime. Between 1868 and 2020, generations of clergy have been appointed to bring religious instruction to bear on a range of offenders, from illegal Christian heretics to Marxist political dissidents, war criminals, and death row inmates. The case of the prison chaplaincy shows that despite constitutional commitments to freedom of religion and separation of religion from state, statism remains an enduring feature of mainstream Japanese religious life in the contemporary era.

[more]

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Lethal Injection
Capital Punishment in Texas during the Modern Era
By Jon Sorensen and Rocky LeAnn Pilgrim
University of Texas Press, 2006

Few state issues have attracted as much controversy and national attention as the application of the death penalty in Texas. In the years since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has led the nation in passing death sentences and executing prisoners. The vigor with which Texas has implemented capital punishment has, however, raised more than a few questions. Why has Texas been so fervent in pursuing capital punishment? Has an aggressive death penalty produced any benefits? Have dangerous criminals been deterred? Have rights been trampled in the process and, most importantly, have innocents been executed? These important questions form the core of Lethal Injection: Capital Punishment in Texas during the Modern Era.

This book is the first comprehensive empirical study of Texas's system of capital punishment in the modern era. Jon Sorensen and Rocky Pilgrim use a wealth of information gathered from formerly confidential prisoner records and a variety of statistical sources to test and challenge traditional preconceptions concerning racial bias, deterrence, guilt, and the application of capital punishment in this state. The results of their balanced analysis may surprise many who have followed the recent debate on this important issue.

[more]

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Litigating in the Shadow of Death
Defense Attorneys in Capital Cases
Welsh S. White
University of Michigan Press, 2005

"Anyone who cares about capital punishment should read this compelling, lucid account of the obstacles defense attorneys face and the strategies they adopt."
--John Parry, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

"With its compelling narratives of cases, strategies, and ethical dilemmas, Litigating in the Shadow of Death is difficult to put down. . . . This pathbreaking book encapsulates the experience of the most respected capital defenders in America and shows how they save even the worst of the worst from execution. It also shows how sleeping and otherwise incompetent lawyers bring death sentences to their clients. Litigating in the Shadow of Death explores the lawyers' tasks at every stage of the criminal process--investigation, client interviewing, conferring with victims' families, plea bargaining, trial, appeal, and post-conviction proceedings."
--Albert W. Alschuler, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology, University of Chicago

"A unique and profoundly important contribution to the literature on the death penalty. White allows the leading capital defense attorneys to speak in their own voices. His work reveals a new source of arbitrariness in the death system--whether the penalty is imposed turns more on who is your lawyer than on how evil was your deed or your character. Litigating in the Shadow of Death offers concrete guidelines for better lawyering, protection of the innocent, and understanding the artistry of the best capital attorneys. This is vivid, gripping stuff."
--Andrew Taslitz, Professor of Law, Howard University

"A most illuminating book by a splendid writer and an eminent critic of the capital punishment system."
--Yale Kamisar, Professor of Law, University of San Diego

"Welsh White has written another excellent book on the death penalty--this one on how defense attorneys in capital cases successfully prevent the state from executing their clients. Based on original research, Litigating in the Shadow of Death is informative and insightful. This is a book that all serious students of American capital punishment must read."
--Richard Leo, University of California, Irvine


Welsh S. White was Bessie McKee Walthour Endowed Chair and Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh.

[more]

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The Man Who Emptied Death Row
Governor George Ryan and the Politics of Crime
James L. Merriner
Southern Illinois University Press, 2008

George H. Ryan, Illinois governor from 1999 to 2003, became nationally known for two significant and very different reasons. The first governor in the United States to clear out his state’s death row and put a moratorium on the death penalty, he was also convicted and sent to prison on corruption charges. The Man Who Emptied Death Row: Governor George Ryan and the Politics of Crime details the career of a man who both enhanced and tarnished the image of the highest office in Illinois and examines the political history and culture that shaped him.

Author James L. Merriner explores the two very different stories of George Ryan: the brave crusader against the death penalty and the petty crook. An extensive analysis of the official record, exclusive interviews, and previously undisclosed incidents in Ryan’s career expose why the governor pardoned or commuted the sentences of all 171 prisoners on Illinois’s death row before leaving office and how he later was convicted of eighteen counts of official corruption.

This biography traces Ryan’s family history and the Illinois political climate that influenced his development as a politician. Although Ryan championed “good-government” initiatives—organ donations, tougher drunken-driving and lobbyist disclosure laws—he never overcame a reputation as a wheeler-dealer, notes Merriner.

Merriner goes beyond Ryan’s life and career to explore the politics of crime, highlighting the successes and failures of the criminal justice system and suggesting how both white-collar fraud and violent crime shape politics. A fascinating story that reveals much about the way Illinois politics works, The Man Who Emptied Death Row will help determine how history will judge Illinois governor George Ryan.

[more]

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Murder and Its Consequences
Essays on Capital Punishment in America
Leigh B Bienen
Northwestern University Press, 2010

The essays in Murder and Its Consequences span several periods in the history of capital punishment in America and the professional career of Leigh Bienen, a leading researcher on the death penalty. “A Good Murder” describes the subtle relationship between high-profile murders and the death penalty, while “The Proportionality Review of Capital Cases” places the well-known study of proportionality in New Jersey within a nationwide context.

“Anomalies” suggests that the arcane protocols written for lethal injection have little to do with insuring humane executions, but rather are concerned with protecting the sensibilities of witnesses and the liability of corrections officials. Other essays address the groundbreaking developments surrounding the death penalty in Illinois, and take a retrospective look at the evolution of her own and the country’s thinking about this complex, divisive topic.

[more]

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Murder and the Death Penalty in Massachusetts
Alan Rogers
University of Massachusetts Press, 2008
For more than 300 years Massachusetts executed men and women convicted of murder, but with a sharp eye on "due proceeding" and against the backdrop of popular ambivalence about the death penalty's morality, cruelty, efficacy, and constitutionality. In this authoritative book, Alan Rogers offers a comprehensive account of how the efforts of reformers and abolitionists and the Supreme Judicial Court's commitment to the rule of law ultimately converged to end the death penalty in Massachusetts.

In the seventeenth century, Governor John Winthrop and the Massachusetts General Court understood murder to be a sin and a threat to the colony's well-being, but the Puritans also drastically reduced the crimes for which death was the prescribed penalty and expanded a capital defendant's rights. Following the Revolution, Americans denounced the death penalty as "British and brutish" and the state's Supreme Judicial Court embraced its role as protector of the rights extended to all men by the Massachusetts Constitution. In the 1830s popular opposition nearly stopped the machinery of death and a vote in the Massachusetts House fell just short of abolishing capital punishment.

A post–Civil War effort extending civil rights to all men also stimulated significant changes in criminal procedure. A "monster petition" begging the governor to spare the life of a murderer convicted on slight circumstantial evidence and the grim prospect of executing nine Chinese men found guilty of murder fueled a passionate debate about the death penalty in the decade before World War I.

The trials and executions of Sacco and Vanzetti focused unwanted international and national attention on Massachusetts. This was a turning point. Sara Ehrmann took charge of the newly formed Massachusetts Council Against the Death Penalty, relentlessly lobbied the legislature, and convinced a string of governors not to sign death warrants. In the 1970s the focus shifted to the courts, and eventually, in 1980, the Supreme Judicial Court abolished the death penalty on the grounds that it violated the Massachusetts Constitution.
[more]

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Murder on the Mountain
Crime, Passion, and Punishment in Gilded Age New Jersey
Peter J. Wosh
Rutgers University Press, 2022
Margaret Klem and John Meierhofer were Bavarian immigrants who arrived in New Jersey in the 1850s, got married, and started a small farm in West Orange. When John returned from the Civil War, he was a changed man, neglecting his work and beating his wife. Margaret was left to manage the farm and endure the suspicion of neighbors, who gossiped about her alleged affairs. Then one day in 1879, John turned up dead with a bullet in the back of his head. Margaret and her farmhand, Dutch immigrant Frank Lammens, were accused of the crime, and both went to the gallows, making Margaret the last woman to be executed by the state of New Jersey. 
 
Was Margaret the calculating murderess and adulteress portrayed by the press? Or was she a battered wife pushed to the edge? Or was she, as she claimed to the end, innocent? Murder on the Mountain considers all sides of this fascinating and mysterious true crime story. In turn, it examines why this murder trial became front-page news, as it resonated with public discussions about capital punishment, mental health, anti-immigrant sentiment, domestic violence, and women’s independence. This is a gripping and thought-provoking study of a murder that shocked the nation.
[more]

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No Winners Here Tonight
Race, Politics, and Geography in One of the Country’s Busiest Death Penalty States
Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Ohio University Press, 2009

Few subjects are as intensely debated in the United States as the death penalty. Some form of capital punishment has existed in America for hundreds of years, yet the justification for carrying out the ultimate sentence is a continuing source of controversy. No Winners Here Tonight explores the history of the death penalty and the question of its fairness through the experience of a single state, Ohio, which, despite its moderate midwestern values, has long had one of the country’s most active death chambers.

In 1958, just four states accounted for half of the forty-eight executions carried out nationwide, each with six: California, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas. By the first decade of the new century, Ohio was second only to Texas in the number of people put to death each year. No Winners Here Tonight looks at this trend and determines that capital punishment has been carried out in an uneven fashion from its earliest days, with outcomes based not on blind justice but on the color of a person’s skin, the whim of a local prosecutor, or the biases of the jury pool in the county in which a crime was committed.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s work is the only comprehensive study of the history of the death penalty in Ohio. His analysis concludes that the current law, crafted by lawmakers to punish the worst of the state’s killers, doesn’t come close to its intended purpose and instead varies widely in its implementation. Welsh-Huggins takes on this controversial topic evenhandedly and with respect for the humanity of the accused and the victim alike. This exploration of the law of capital punishment and its application will appeal to students of criminal justice as well as those with an interest in law and public policy.

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Pain, Death, and the Law
Austin Sarat, Editor
University of Michigan Press, 2001
This collection of essays examines the relationship between pain, death, and the law and addresses the question of how the law constructs pain and death as jurisprudential facts. The empirical focus of these essays enables the reader to delve into both the history and the theoretical complexities of the pain-death-law relationship. The combination of the theoretical and the empirical broadens the contribution this volume will undoubtedly make to debates in which the right to live or die is the core issue at hand.
This volume will be an important read for policy makers and legal practitioners and a valuable text for courses in law, the social sciences, and the humanities.
Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College.
[more]

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Peculiar Institution
America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition
David Garland
Harvard University Press, 2012

The U.S. death penalty is a peculiar institution, and a uniquely American one. Despite its comprehensive abolition elsewhere in the Western world, capital punishment continues in dozens of American states– a fact that is frequently discussed but rarely understood. The same puzzlement surrounds the peculiar form that American capital punishment now takes, with its uneven application, its seemingly endless delays, and the uncertainty of its ever being carried out in individual cases, none of which seem conducive to effective crime control or criminal justice. In a brilliantly provocative study, David Garland explains this tenacity and shows how death penalty practice has come to bear the distinctive hallmarks of America’s political institutions and cultural conflicts.

America’s radical federalism and local democracy, as well as its legacy of violence and racism, account for our divergence from the rest of the West. Whereas the elites of other nations were able to impose nationwide abolition from above despite public objections, American elites are unable– and unwilling– to end a punishment that has the support of local majorities and a storied place in popular culture.

In the course of hundreds of decisions, federal courts sought to rationalize and civilize an institution that too often resembled a lynching, producing layers of legal process but also delays and reversals. Yet the Supreme Court insists that the issue is to be decided by local political actors and public opinion. So the death penalty continues to respond to popular will, enhancing the power of criminal justice professionals, providing drama for the media, and bringing pleasure to a public audience who consumes its chilling tales.

Garland brings a new clarity to our understanding of this peculiar institution– and a new challenge to supporters and opponents alike.

[more]

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The Penalty Is Death
U.S. Newspaper Coverage of Women's Executions
Marlin Shipman
University of Missouri Press, 2002
In 1872 Susan Eberhart was convicted of murder for helping her lover to kill his wife. The Atlanta Constitution ran a story about her hanging in Georgia that covered slightly more than four full columns of text. In an editorial sermon about her, the Constitution said that Miss Eberhart not only committed murder, but also committed adultery and “violated the sanctity of marriage.” An 1890 article in the Elko Independent said of Elizabeth Potts, who was hanged for murder, “To her we look for everything that is gentle and kind and tender; and we can scarcely conceive her capable of committing the highest crime known to the law.” Indeed, at the time, this attitude was also applied to women in general.
By 1998 the press’s and society’s attitudes had changed dramatically. A columnist from Texas wrote that convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker should not be spared just because she was a woman. The author went on to say that women could be just as violent and aggressive as men; the idea that women are defenseless and need men’s protection “is probably the last vestige of institutionalized sexism that needs to be rubbed out.”
In “The Penalty Is Death, Marlin Shipman examines the shifts in press coverage of women’s executions over the past one hundred and fifty years. Since the colonies’ first execution of a woman in 1632, about 560 more women have had to face the death penalty. Newspaper responses to these executions have ranged from massive national coverage to limited regional and even local coverage. Throughout the years the press has been guilty of sensationalism, stereotyping, and marginalizing of female convicts, making prejudicial remarks, trying these women in the media, and virtually ignoring or simply demeaning African American women convicts. This thoroughly researched book studies countless episodes that serve to illustrate these points.
Shipman’s use of reconstructed stories, gleaned from hundreds of newspaper articles, gives readers a deeper understanding of the ways these dailies reported on the trials and imprisonment of women and how these reports reflected the cultural norms of the times. His detailed narratives of the executions give evidence to the development of journalistic styles and techniques, such as the jazz journalism of the 1920s. By examining anecdotes about how the press reports on the death penalty, Shipman seeks to stimulate discussions about this subject that are more human and less abstract.
“The Penalty Is Death” fills a void in the literature on capital punishment that has long been neglected. Anyone interested in media and press performance, capital punishment, or women’s roles in society will find this book of great value.
[more]

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Race, Rape, and Injustice
Documenting and Challenging Death Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era
Barrett J. Foerster
University of Tennessee Press, 2012
This book tells the dramatic story of twenty-eight law students—one of whom was the author—who went south at the height of the civil rights era and helped change death penalty jurisprudence forever.
    The 1965 project was organized by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sought to prove statistically whether capital punishment in southern rape cases had been applied discriminatorily over the previous twenty years. If the research showed that a disproportionate number of African Americans convicted of raping white women had received the death penalty regardless of nonracial variables (such as the degree of violence used), then capital punishment in the South could be abolished as a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
    Targeting eleven states, the students cautiously made their way past suspicious court clerks, lawyers, and judges to secure the necessary data from dusty courthouse records. Trying to attract as little attention as possible, they managed—amazingly—to complete their task without suffering serious harm at the hands of white supremacists. Their findings then went to University of Pennsylvania criminologist Marvin Wolfgang, who compiled and analyzed the data for use in court challenges to death penalty convictions. The result was powerful evidence that thousands of jurors had voted on racial grounds in rape cases.
    This book not only tells Barrett Foerster’s and his teammates story but also examines how the findings were used before a U.S. Supreme Court resistant to numbers-based arguments and reluctant to admit that the justice system had executed hundreds of men because of their skin color. Most important, it illuminates the role the project played in the landmark Furman v. Georgia case, which led to a four-year cessation of capital punishment and a more limited set of death laws aimed at constraining racial discrimination.

A Virginia native who studied law at UCLA, BARRETT J. FOERSTER (1942–2010) was a judge in the Superior Court in Imperial County, California.

MICHAEL MELTSNER is the George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University. During the 1960s, he was first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. His books include The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer and Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.


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front cover of The Roots of Rough Justice
The Roots of Rough Justice
Origins of American Lynching
Michael J. Pfeifer
University of Illinois Press, 2014
In this deeply researched prequel to his 2006 study Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874–1947, Michael J. Pfeifer analyzes the foundations of lynching in American social history. Scrutinizing the vigilante movements and lynching violence that occurred in the middle decades of the nineteenth century on the Southern, Midwestern, and far Western frontiers, The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching offers new insights into collective violence in the pre-Civil War era.
 
Pfeifer examines the antecedents of American lynching in an early modern Anglo-European folk and legal heritage. He addresses the transformation of ideas and practices of social ordering, law, and collective violence in the American colonies, the early American Republic, and especially the decades before and immediately after the American Civil War. His trenchant and concise analysis anchors the first book to consider the crucial emergence of the practice of lynching of slaves in antebellum America. Pfeifer also leads the way in analyzing the history of American lynching in a global context, from the early modern British Atlantic to the legal status of collective violence in contemporary Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.
 
Seamlessly melding source material with apt historical examples, The Roots of Rough Justice tackles the emergence of not only the rhetoric surrounding lynching, but its practice and ideology. Arguing that the origins of lynching cannot be restricted to any particular region, Pfeifer shows how the national and transatlantic context is essential for understanding how whites used mob violence to enforce the racial and class hierarchies across the United States.
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front cover of Rough Justice
Rough Justice
Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947
Michael J. Pfeifer
University of Illinois Press, 2004

front cover of The Solemn Sentence of Death
The Solemn Sentence of Death
Capital Punishment in Connecticut
Lawrence B. Goodheart
University of Massachusetts Press, 2011
The first case study of its kind, this book addresses a broad range of questions about the rationale for and application of judicial execution in Connecticut since the seventeenth century. In addition to identifying the 158 people who have been put to death for crimes during the state's history, Lawrence Goodheart analyzes their social status in terms of sex, race, class, religion, and ethnicity. He looks at the circumstances of the crimes, the weapons that were used, and the victims. He reconstructs the history of Connecticut's capital laws, its changing rituals of execution, and the growing debate over the legitimacy of the death penalty itself. Although the focus is on the criminal justice system, the ethical values of New England culture form the larger context. Goodheart shows how a steady diminution in types of capital crimes, including witchcraft and sexual crimes, culminated in an emphasis on proportionate punishment during the Enlightenment and eventually led to a preference for imprisonment for all capital crimes except first-degree murder. Goodheart concludes by considering why Connecticut, despite its many statutory restrictions on capital punishment and lengthy appeals process, has been the only state in New England to have executed anyone since 1960.
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front cover of A Weak Woman in a Strong Battle
A Weak Woman in a Strong Battle
Women and Public Execution in Early Modern England
Jennifer Lillian Lodine-Chaffey
University of Alabama Press, 2022
A study of the depictions of women’s executions in Renaissance England
 
A Weak Woman in a Strong Battle: Women and Public Execution in Early Modern England provides critical insights on representations of women on the scaffold, focusing on how female victims and those writing about them constructed meaning from the ritual. Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey draws on a wide range of genres, from accounts of martyrdom to dramatic works, to explore not only the words of women executed in Tudor and Stuart England, but also the ways that writers represented female bodies as markers of penitence or deviance.

A significant part of the execution spectacle—one used to assess the victim’s proper acceptance of death and godly repentance—was the final speech offered at the foot of the gallows or before the pyre. To ensure their final words held value for audiences, women adopted conventionally gendered language and positioned themselves as subservient and modest. The reception of women’s speeches, Lodine-Chaffey argues, depended on their performances of accepted female behaviors and language as well as physical signs of interior regeneration. Indeed, when women presented themselves or were represented as behaving in stereotypically feminine and virtuous ways, they were able to offer limited critiques of their fraught positions in society.

Just as important as their words, though, were the depictions of women’s bodies. The executed woman’s body, Lodine-Chaffey contends, functioned as a text, scrutinized by witnesses and readers for markers of innocence or guilt. The intense focus on the words and bodies of women facing execution during this period, Lodine-Chaffey argues, became a catalyst for a more thorough interest in and understanding of women’s roles not just as criminals but as subjects
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front cover of Who Deserves to Die?
Who Deserves to Die?
Constructing the Executable Subject
Austin Sarat
University of Massachusetts Press, 2011
How do we select those who will be subject to capital punishment? How do we identify the worst of the worst and decide who among them can and should be executed? Today these questions are more pressing than they have ever been. As the number of people sentenced to death and executed declines in the United States, those who are executed stand out as distinctive kinds of criminals, distinctive kinds of people. Does a death sentence affirm or deny their humanity? Is such a sentence an act of revenge or a carefully calculated act of justice?

These are more than questions for policy and law. They are one way of getting a handle on how our culture understands what makes life worth preserving and of delving into its complex calculus of punishment and retribution. Who Deserves to Die? brings together a distinguished group of death penalty scholars to assess the forms of legal subjectivity and legal community that are supported and constructed by the doctrines and practices of punishment by death in the United States. They help us understand what we do and who we become when we decide who is fit for execution.

In addition to the editors, contributors include Vanessa Barker, Thomas L. Dumm, Daniel Markel, Linda Meyer, Ruth A. Miller, Ravit Reichman, Susan R. Schmeiser, Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, and Robert Weisberg.
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