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I AM N-N-NOT DYING! screamed Willie Francis, a 17-year-old African-American convicted of murder by an all-white Louisiana jury in 1946, during the failed electrocution that kicks off this tale of justice gone awry in the segregated American South. As told in a sometimes repetitious avalanche of detail by King (Woman, Child for Sale), Francis's story is emblematic of the time and place—a prominent white man in a Cajun town was gunned down, and soon Francis was picked up and, under duress and without an attorney, confessed to the crime. Despite no eyewitnesses and scant physical evidence, Francis was convicted and sentenced to death. After surviving the first execution attempt, he waited in prison nearly a year while the battle over his fate went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. After a page-turning start with the ill-fated execution attempt described in gripping detail, King runs out of steam. What's of interest is the horrifying botched execution and the fact, revealed late in the narrative, that Francis never denied committing the murder. While his eventual execution is tragic, this account doesn't add much to our understanding of U.S. race relations. 16 page b&w insert not seen by PW. (Apr.)
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