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Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty [Paperback]

Scott Turow
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2004
A gripping examination of the case for and against capital punishment by a respected criminal lawyer and celebrated novelist. In the words of Harvard Law Professor, Laurence H. Tribe--"Ultimate Punishment is the ultimate statement about the death penalty: to read it is to understand why law alone cannot make us whole."

As a respected criminal lawyer, Scott Turow has been involved with the death penalty for more than a decade, including successfully representing two different men convicted in death-penalty prosecutions. In this vivid account of how his views on the death penalty have evolved, Turow describes his own experiences with capital punishment from his days as an impassioned young prosecutor to his recent service on the Illinois commission which investigated the administration of the death penalty and influenced Governor George Ryan’s unprecedented commutation of the sentences of 164 death row inmates on his last day in office. Telling the powerful stories behind the statistics, as he moves from the Governor’s Mansion to Illinois’s state-of-the art “super-max” prison and the execution chamber, Ultimate Punishment has all the drama and intellectual substance of Turow’s bestselling fiction.

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From Publishers Weekly

Is there anything new to say about whether the death penalty should be abolished? It turns out there is. Bestselling author Turow (Reversible Errors) has some useful insights into this fiercely debated subject, based on his experiences as a prosecutor and, in his postprosecutorial years, working on behalf of death-row inmates, and his two years on Illinois's Commission on Capital Punishment, charged by the former Gov. George Ryan with examining how the death penalty might be more fairly administered. This is a sober and elegantly concise examination of a complex, fraught topic by an admitted "agnostic." His views veering one way and then the other, Turow shares his back-and-forth reasoning as he carefully discusses each issue, from the possible execution of an innocent person (a serious danger) to whether execution is a deterrent (it's not). Perhaps most illuminating are Turow's thoughts on victims' rights (which he says must be weighed against the needs of the community); on what to do with "the worst of the worst" (he visits a maximum security prison to meet multiple-murderer Henry Brison, who, Turow says, "most closely resembles... Hannibal Lecter"); and the question of what he calls "moral proportion," the notion that execution is meant to restore moral balance, which, he says, requires an "unfailingly accurate" system of justice. This measured weighing of the facts will be most valuable to those who, like Turow, are on the fence-they will find an invaluable, objective look at both sides of this critical but highly charged debate.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Popular legal-fiction writer Turow takes on the divisive topic of the death penalty in this concise, thoughtful essay. A self-proclaimed "death penalty agnostic," Turow didn't consider himself an expert on the issue even during his years as a prosecutor or when he helped in the defense of some high-profile capital cases. Nonetheless, in early 2000, after Illinois governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on further executions, Turow was appointed to a 14-member blue-ribbon commission charged with helping reform the state's capital punishment system. Ryan's groundbreaking moratorium began a wave of similar actions nationwide as more and more guilty convictions were questioned, whether via new DNA evidence or an overzealous prosecutorial machine (in two key cases in Illinois, a little of both). Turow traces the recent history of the death penalty through his own experiences, and though he was ambivalent about it at the start, he comes away with definite convictions. This is not a scientific study, Turow admits, but he does supply ample notes to back up many of the claims he makes throughout the book. Also included is the commission's report as submitted to Governor Ryan. Together with Mark Fuhrman's more procedural study, Death and Justice [BKL Jl 03], Turow's reflections will spark further discussions on this troublesome issue. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ON FEBRUARY 3, 1984, a young woman named Michelle Thompson and a male friend, Rene Valentine, were forced at gunpoint from the car they'd just entered in a parking lot outside D. Laney's, a nightclub in Gurnee, Illinois, north of Chicago. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Heard ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT, written and read by novelist Scott
Turow . . . it is a sobering, nonfiction account of Turow's service on the Illinois commission that investigated the administration of the death penalty and influenced Governor George Ryan's unprecedented commutation of the sentences of 164 death row inmates on his last day in office.
I remember in 2003 when I read about the above how I wondered,
"What gives?" . . . although not a strong supporter of the death
penalty (then), I still believed that it did serve a useful purpose in certain instances--and it was a definite deterrent to future crimes of a heinous nature.
Now, after reading Turow's latest effort, I'm not at all sure . . . I've become convinced that there are serious flaws in the criminal justice system . . . furthermore, I realize now that too many innocent people have been wrongly convicted of murder with race or lack of income often being the only reason this happens.
The author provides many examples, supporting his analysis
of the issue . . . this one really struck home: [Chris Thomas is]
"condemned to die because he is poor and belligerent, while
the likes of the Menendez brothers, who shotgunned their
parents for their millions, or the Unabomber . . . get life."
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By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
If you are like me, you mostly know Scott Turow from his many best-selling legal thrillers, including Reversible Errors which death with a death penalty case. Although his book jackets point out that he is lawyer, I haven't gotten a strong sense of that part of his life since his first book, One-L, in which he described life as a new Harvard Law School student.
In his legal career, Mr. Turow has had some exposure to capital punishment cases both as a prosecutor and as a defendant's attorney. From these experiences, he learned that the law doesn't operate as smoothly as advertised in death penalty cases.
I picked up the book because I had read a little about Illinois Governor George Ryan's commutation of 167 death sentences on the last day of his term in office, and wanted to know more about how they came about. The book more than fulfilled my interest, because Mr. Turow was a member of a commission looking into reforming the application of the death penalty for Governor Ryan. The findings of that commission and the subsequent foot dragging by the legislature caused Governor Ryan to act.
Although I have been opposed to the death penalty for as long as I can remember, I was shocked to find out how poorly the sentence had been applied in Illinois. Prosecutors overlooked police torture to obtain confessions, judges overlooked obvious procedural errors, defense attorneys were expected to defend their clients at trial for a total payment of $300, defendants to the same crime often didn't receive the same sentence even when their acts were worse, AND many innocent defendants spent years awaiting death. If you want to understand all the gruesome details, this book provides them in a reasonably dispassionate way.
When he started with the commission, Mr.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Well-researched, Well-written Book Feb. 21 2004
Scott Turow was one of 14 members of a Commission named by the then Governor of Illinois, George Ryan to study and make recommendations on the state's death penalty law. This book is a result of that study. Turow discusses the usual arguments for and against this ultimate penalty. Some of his findings conclusions are expected; others were surprising, at least to me. The usual conclusions are here-- the vast majority of individuals convicted of crimes are guilty. Whether you get the death penalty or not depends on where you live. You are much more likely to get the death penalty in rural areas than in large urban areas. To quote Turow, other factors are ". . . race, gender, geography, who the lawyers and jurors are, and the sheer serendipity of circumstances. . ." Some people are guilty of the crime of having the wrong defense lawyers, and, of course, of being poor. Turow discusses the case of Chris Thomas, a death row inmate, who had been defended by two private attorneys under contract with the local public defender's office that paid them $30,000 per year to defend 103 cases, one of which had to be a capital case. The two attorneys worked together on Thomas' case. One of them had never had any role in a death penalty case; the other had been standby counsel for a defendant, already under a death sentence in Ohio, who had represented himself. The attorneys therefore mounted a six hundred dollar defense for their client. I had always thought that black people are more likely to get the death penalty than whites. Not so, according to Turow; black people just get convicted more. In Illinois 70% of all persons convicted and sentence for first-degree murder are black; their victims have been 60% black. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Reckoning on Ultimate Penalty Dec 10 2003
Famous novelist Scott Turow, an attorney by training, wrote a very sensitive, honest and well-thought out book on capital punishment. As a member of Illinois Capital Punishment Commission he had ample opportunity to think about the pro's and con's of the issue.
His bottom line is this: there are indeed those cases (mostly in the cases of pathological serial killers) that might warrant the death penalty. However, there are so many cases of capital punishment dished out erronously or delivered to those defendants too poor to hire top-notch legal representation, that it does more harm than good in the name of justice.
The pivotal question, as he puts it, "is whether a system of justice can be constructed that reaches only the rare, right cases, without also occasionally condemning the innocent or the undeserving." Capital punishment, in Turow's judgement, does not satify these conditions.
He supports his argument by giving appropriate examples like the case of Chris Thomas who is "condemned to die because he is poor and belligerent, while the likes of the Menendez brothers, who shotgunned their parents for their millions, or the Unabomber ... get life."
Only 115 pages but a very good and seminal read. Highly recommended.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars intéressant sans plus
lu d'autres livres plus convainquant sur la peine de mort, celui-ci est un peu superficiel, il est donc étrange qu'il soit recommandé par un universitaire.
Published 5 months ago by marc israel
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unbiased Report
The author of this book presents an unbiased report of his experience dealing with the Death Penalty issue. Read more
Published on July 18 2006 by A. Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, readable, persuasive argument
Turow takes his skills as a story teller and lawyer and fuses them to make clear and convincing arguments against the death penalty, both moral and practial. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2004 by "mistyct"
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenge to the Justice System in the U.S.
Scott Turow's ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT: A Lawyers Reflection on Dealing with the Death Penalty is his reflection on the work he did on Gov. Read more
Published on Dec 8 2003 by Duncan Stroup
4.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the most impartial book on the subject
Calling himself a "death penalty agnostic," Turow takes a moderate position on the death penalty. Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2003 by Adam Woodrum
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting analysis from someone who's been there
I'm married to someone who has prosecuted death penalty cases, so I'm well aware of the pros and cons. Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2003 by Joe Lee
3.0 out of 5 stars YEA PRETTY GOOD
Not a bad read...pretty good really. Reasonably thought proving in a moderate way. It might not be a bad idea to have a read of this book yourself. Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2003 by Goodbye
5.0 out of 5 stars I LOVED this book
I graduated from Law School 20 years ago and my vexing struggle with the death penalty is a real now as it was then. Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2003 by MovedbyMusic
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thought-Provoking Book and a Valuable Reference Source
In January of 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the death sentences of every resident of death row in his state. Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2003 by Bookreporter
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