The Autobiography of an Execution

The Autobiography of an Execution

3.9 57
by David R. Dow
     
 

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Winner of the 2010 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Nonfiction

David R. Dow has had access to a world most of us will never experience. As a lawyer, he has represented over one hundred death-row cases. Many of his clients have died. Most were guilty. Some might have been innocent. The Autobiography of an Execution is his deeply

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Overview

Winner of the 2010 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Nonfiction

David R. Dow has had access to a world most of us will never experience. As a lawyer, he has represented over one hundred death-row cases. Many of his clients have died. Most were guilty. Some might have been innocent. The Autobiography of an Execution is his deeply personal story about justice, the death penalty, and a lawyer's life.

His life at paradoxical extremes: Witnessing executions and then coming home to the loving embrace of his wife and young son, who inqure about Dow's day. Waging moral battles on behalf of people who have committed abhorrent crimes. Fighting for life in America's death-penalty capital, within a criminal justice system full of indifferent and ineffectual judges. Racing against time on behalf of clients who have no more time.

Regardless of your views on the death penalty, Dow's writing will take you inside the issue in striking, intimate ways: through the complicated minds of judges, inside prisons and execution-administration chambers, and into his own home, where the toll of working on these gnarled and difficult cases is often paid. Ultimately, he shows us a world where suspense clings to every word and action, where human lives hang in the balance, and where doing the right thing is never as easy as it sounds.

Discover Awards Commentary

With the pacing of a thriller, this memoir, by a defense attorney for those on death row, is a provocative exploration of justice.

From the Judges

"A brilliantly powerful book. This memoir reads like dark poetry, allowing the reader to interpret Dow's inner voice, and judge his inner demons as if they reside inside the reader him or herself.... This book should be required reading for anybody with an opinion about the death penalty. Regardless of where you stand, you'll walk away both disturbed and enlightened -- as if you've witnessed an execution firsthand." -- Eric Blehm

"I've never read a book quite like this. To be honest, the story of a lawyer on death row in Texas didn't sound that promising, but from the very first sentence, it was absolutely compelling; and by the end, it had me in tears.... How on earth do you go home to your wife and 9-year-old son after witnessing the execution of a client you think innocent? Dow has represented more than 100 of these individuals. I flinched at the line when he phones home and his son cheerfully asks, 'Hi Dada, did you have a good day at the death row?' I would challenge anyone to read this book and not question a system where trial lawyers snooze through most of a capital murder case, or appeals courts abruptly close at 5:00 p.m. so judges can get home for tea." -- Christina Lamb

"No matter how you feel about capital punishment -- and especially if you support it, whether staunchly or uneasily -- this book will bring you face to face with the arbitrary, often capricious way in which the death penalty really works. It's the most sobering book that I read in 2010." -- Terry Teachout

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Editorial Reviews

Dahlia Lithwick
Dow isn't doing high constitutional theory here; this is pure red meat. What Dow exposes in this dark, raw memoir is not just a dispassionate machinery of death that cannot be slowed, reversed or mediated by truth, logic or fact. He also exposes the inner life of a man who, in the face of all that, cannot give up the fight.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In an argument against capital punishment, Dow’s capable memoir partially gathers its steam from the emotional toll on all parties involved, especially the overworked legal aid lawyers and their desperate clients. The author, the litigation director of the Texas Defender Service and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, respects the notion of attorney-client privilege in this handful of real-life legal outcomes, some of them quite tragic, while acknowledging executions are “not about the attorneys,” but “about the victims of murder and sometimes their killers.” While trying to maintain a proper balance in his marriage to Katya, a fellow attorney and ballroom dancer, he spells out the maze of legal mumbo-jumbo to get his clients stays or released from confinement in the cases of a hapless Vietnam vet who shot a child, another man who beat his pregnant wife to death and another who killed his wife and children. In the end, Dow’s book is a sobering, gripping and candid look into the death penalty. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Appellate lawyer Dow (Law/Univ. of Houston Law Center; America's Prophets: How Judicial Activism Makes America Great, 2009, etc.) delivers an unsparing indictment of capital punishment in America and the legal system that enables it. Most of the more than 100 death-row clients the author has represented since 1989 were indeed guilty of unspeakable crimes. Yet, he writes, "if you believe it's wrong to kill, you believe it's wrong to kill." So Dow continually tried to prevent-or, more likely, delay, if only for a few days or hours-his clients' executions by a legal system in which "you hardly ever win." In this racist, classist system, writes the author, prosecutors hide evidence and police lie, lawyers fall asleep during their clients' trials, appellate lawyers forget to file appeals on time, judges condemn with indifference and moral cowardice and nobody in the system-from the jury to the Supreme Court-is required to see the results of their actions: the taking of a human life. At the center of Dow's story is the case of Henry Quaker, who was found guilty of the brutal murders of his wife and children. As more evidence was uncovered, however-including the confession of another death-row inmate that he was responsible for the murders-Dow became convinced that Quaker was one of his few innocent clients. In this deft page-turner, Dow brings the reader into the legal world, as he and his colleagues tried nearly every legal gambit to have Quaker spared, in the days, hours and minutes before his time of execution. The author is equally skilled at evoking the personal toll created by the trial-the sleepless nights, the endless work, the neglect of a lovingly portrayed wife and son, whonevertheless sustained and inspired him. A book of uncompromising honesty and moral beauty.
Anthony Lewis
"I have read much about capital punishment, but David Dow's book leaves all else behind."
John Grisham
"For a lot of good reasons, and some that are not so good, executions in the U.S. are carried out in private. The voters, the vast majority of whom support executions, are not allowed to see them. The Autobiography of an Execution is a riveting and compelling account of a Texas execution written and narrated by a lawyer in the thick of the last minute chaos. It should be read by all those who support state sponsored killing."

Dave Cullen
"Defending the innocent is easy. David Dow fights for the questionable. He is tormented, but relentless, and takes us inside his struggle with candor and insight, shudders and all."

Jeffrey Toobin
"David Dow's extraordinary memoir lifts the veil on the real world of representing defendants on death row. It will stay with me a long time."

From the Publisher
"For a lot of good reasons, and some that are not so good, executions in the U.S. are carried out in private. The voters, the vast majority of whom support executions, are not allowed to see them. The Autobiography of an Execution is a riveting and compelling account of a Texas execution written and narrated by a lawyer in the thick of the last minute chaos. It should be read by all those who support state sponsored killing."

John Grisham, author of The Innocent Man

"David Dow's extraordinary memoir lifts the veil on the real world of representing defendants on death row. It will stay with me a long time."

Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine

"I have read much about capital punishment, but David Dow's book leaves all else behind."—Anthony Lewis

"In an argument against capital punishment, Dow's capable memoir partially gathers its steam from the emotional toll on all parties involved, especially the overworked legal aid lawyers and their desperate clients. The author, the litigation director of the Texas Defender Service and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, respects the notion of attorney-client privilege in this handful of real-life legal outcomes, some of them quite tragic, while acknowledging executions are 'not about the attorneys,' but 'about the victims of murder and sometimes their killers.' While trying to maintain a proper balance in his marriage to Katya, a fellow attorney and ballroom dancer, he spells out the maze of legal mumbo-jumbo to get his clients stays or released from confinement in the cases of a hapless Vietnam vet who shot a child, another man who beat his pregnant wife to death and another who killed his wife and children. In the end, Dow's book is a sobering, gripping and candid look into the death penalty."

Publishers Weekly

"Defending the innocent is easy. David Dow fights for the questionable. He is tormented, but relentless, and takes us inside his struggle with candor and insight, shudders and all."

Dave Cullen, author of Columbine

Library Journal
Dow (law, Univ. of Houston Law Ctr.; founder & director, Texas Innocence) defends prisoners on death row and is a vocal opponent of the death penalty. In this true-crime narrative, he gives a first-person account of the legal system and capital punishment from multiple perspectives, altering the details of the cases he discusses so they are unrecognizable. The most poignant and central case revolves around a convicted murderer who in all likelihood is innocent but who nonetheless remains on death row because of incompetent lawyers at both the original and state appeal levels. The author himself reads, addditionally speaking to the ways in which these cases have impacted his private life; his passion about his work is evident. A scholarly essay on legal ethics regarding confidential information is followed by an interview with the author. For anyone interested in capital punishment and for all true crime and legal collections of all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.—Ed.]—J. Sara Paulk, Fitzgerald-Ben Hill Cty. Lib., GA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781455504060
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
03/02/2011
Pages:
271
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are saying about this

Anthony Lewis
"I have read much about capital punishment, but David Dow's book leaves all else behind.

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