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Death and Justice: An Expose of Oklahoma's Death Row Machine

Death and Justice: An Expose of Oklahoma's Death Row Machine

by Mark Fuhrman, Dowling (Editor)

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Controversy rages about capital punishment as innocent men and women are being released from death rows all over the country. Are innocent people being executed? Is capital punishment justice or is it revenge?

Into the debate steps Mark Fuhrman, America's most famous detective, and no stranger to controversy himself.

Fuhrman seeks to answer these


Controversy rages about capital punishment as innocent men and women are being released from death rows all over the country. Are innocent people being executed? Is capital punishment justice or is it revenge?

Into the debate steps Mark Fuhrman, America's most famous detective, and no stranger to controversy himself.

Fuhrman seeks to answer these questions by investigating the death penalty in Oklahoma, where a "hang 'em high" attitude of cowboy justice resulted in twenty–one executions in 2001, more than any other state. Most of these cases came from one jurisdiction, Oklahoma County, where legendary DA Bob Macy bragged of sending more people to death row than any other prosecutor, and police chemist Joyce Gilchrist was eventually fired for mismanaging the crime lab. Examining police records, trial transcripts, appellate decisions and conducting hundreds of interviews, Fuhrman focuses his considerable investigative skills on more than a dozen of the most controversial Oklahoma death penalty cases.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
The abuses Fuhrman uncovers were so troubling that they caused him to abandon his long-held belief in capital punishment: "I no longer believe in the death penalty. I no longer have faith that it is administered fairly or justly," he writes near the end of the book. And while not every reader may reach the same conclusion, Death and Justice does force you to consider whether those two words belong in the same sentence. — Douglas McCollam
Publishers Weekly
Former LAPD detective Fuhrman (Murder in Brentwood and Murder in Spokane) may not be an elegant stylist, but his latest book is a serious and alarming investigation of legal misconduct on a massive scale. In 2001, Oklahoma executed 21 death row inmates-more than any other state in the country-and 13 had been convicted by the same Oklahoma County district attorney, Bob Macy. Fuhrman sets the stage: A barrel-chested cowboy whose good-ol'-boy brand of frontier politics and hard-line stance on the death penalty earned him a handful of enemies but many more powerful friends, Macy aggressively pushed for the death penalty in cases that other prosecutors would likely never have brought to trial. And his political influence and tearfully delivered closing arguments led to victory more often than not. Supporting Macy in his self-righteous campaign against crime was Joyce Gilchrist, director of the Oklahoma City Police Department crime lab. Often scolded for indiscretions but never strongly questioned, Gilchrist, Fuhrman explains, flagrantly mismanaged the crime lab for nearly two decades and routinely gave false and misleading testimony under oath (testimony that led to several death penalty convictions). When the cumulative effects of Gilchrist's incompetence and a federal investigation finally threatened to erupt into a national scandal, potentially damaging evidence against her was found to be either conveniently missing or prematurely destroyed. Fuhrman stops short of calling Oklahoma's problems a conspiracy, but he does show that they are endemic not only to Oklahoma but also to our entire criminal justice system. While his discussions of the ethical complexities of executions are unsophisticated, Fuhrman's book makes for an engrossing read. (Sept.) Forecast: Readers will remember Fuhrman as the detective who found the controversial "bloody glove" in the O.J. Simpson case. His previous books have sold extremely well, and this one should as well. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fuhrman here details the death penalty machine of 1980s-1990s Oklahoma City under powerful district attorney Bob Macy. Citizens, politicians, lawyers, police, and jurors all became caught up in the frenzy to mete out swift and final justice for heinous murders. Unfortunately, this greater goal blinded many to the needed to do their jobs correctly-once a suspect was identified, all effort was focused on making the case. Perhaps worst of all was the crime lab, run by the incompetent, insubordinate, and politically connected Joyce Gilchrist. Interestingly, Fuhrman, a former detective (O.J. Simpson trial) and best-selling author (Death in Greenwich), began the journey of researching and writing this book as a death penalty supporter yet emerged a strong abolitionist. Fuhrman writes eloquently of his change of heart, but the sheer volume-all death penalty cases under Macy's tenure-and rapid-fire pace make it hard to keep up. Still, this is highly recommended and likely to be popular.-Karen Sandlin Silverman, Lansdowne Friends Sch. Lib., PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The notorious detective from the OJ trial examines some capital cases in Oklahoma and concludes that the death penalty should be abolished. Cop-turned-radio-commentator-and-writer Fuhrman (Murder in Spokane, 2001) flashes some courage as he reverses his long-held position on the death penalty because of what he calls "shoddy, half-baked cases." He begins with a quick tour of death row-and the death chamber-in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. It's this portion that exhibits Fuhrman at his best: the sentences are crisp, the images clear, the dialogue purposeful. (We learn that the fabled "last meal"-at least in the Sooner State-has a price cap of $15.) The author then explores some cases in Oklahoma County featuring prosecutor Bob Macy, who sent 73 people to death row, and forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist, whose expert testimony for the prosecution dazzled jurors even as it alarmed her colleagues. Macy emerges as an avenging angel in a cowboy hat (his favorite film is Lonesome Dove) who asked for the ultimate penalty whenever he possibly could; Gilchrist is depicted as an unethical incompetent willing to go to any extent to accommodate the cops by nailing defendants with misleading testimony about fiber, hair, blood, and semen. Numerous investigations of her behavior by the FBI and 60 Minutes, among others, led to the release of some men and the downfall of both Gilchrist and Macy. Fuhrman's support for some of these defendants is grudging, for he recognizes that they were career criminals who happened to be innocent only in these particular cases. "In the end," he writes of one man, "Johnson was not given the due process that even a scumbag like him deserves." Fuhrman is most affected bydeath-penalty-opponent Jim Fowler, whose son was executed and whose mother was raped and murdered in an unrelated case. Fuhrman's prose may plod, but it nonetheless convinces that a criminal justice system can be criminal and lack justice. Agent: Al Lowman/Authors and Artists Group

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Death and Justice
An Expose of Oklahoma's Death Row Machine

Chapter One

Frontier Justice

"It's a mess down here in Oklahoma!" Jack Dempsey Pointer said in his booming good-ol'-boy voice. "We're executing people; we don't know if they're innocent or guilty. It's a regular death factory."

Pointer, president of the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association, was a guest on my radio show for KXLY Spokane in October 2001. I told Pointer I was skeptical.

"Fuhrman, you're just saying that because you're a cop and I'm a defense lawyer. It's your job to put criminals in jail and it's my job to keep them out," Pointer said. "But if you don't believe me, then come down here and see for yourself."

So I did. At first glance, I liked Oklahoma. The landscape is flat and somewhat monotonous, but the people are friendly. They wear Wranglers and eat red meat and listen to country music and vote Republican. Instantly I felt I was among friends.

In many ways, Oklahoma is like a place lost in time. The cowboy past is more powerfully felt there than in most other places because that past is still so recent. Originally a territory for displaced Indian tribes, Oklahoma did not achieve statehood until 1907. The ethos of frontier justice has dominated Oklahoma since the 1890s, when "hanging judge" Isaac Parker sent eighty-seven men to the gallows.

On my first night in Oklahoma City, I met Jack Dempsey Pointer, a jovial, outspoken man who is so large that he can barely fit in the front seat of his Jaguar. Pointer took me to the Oyster Bar, a downtown watering hole where people on both sides of Oklahoma City law enforcement go to unwind, gossip, and sometimes even negotiate plea bargains.

Over the next few days I met defense lawyers, prosecutors,judges, and cops. I was taken by how friendly and open people were. Even if they didn't want to tell me anything, they would be very polite about it. After my rather chilly treatment in Greenwich, Connecticut, while investigating the murder of Martha Moxley, or Spokane, Washington, on the trail of a serial killer, Oklahoma was a pleasant surprise.

Hanging around with the folks in Oklahoma made me feel like I was back among my old LAPD colleagues. We traded stories about crime and punishment. They had a good sense of humor and weren't easily offended. Even those few who didn't want to talk to me were very gracious about it.

The attitude among most Oklahomans -- not just law enforcement professionals but also waitresses, cabdrivers, and businesspeople -- was basically "hang'em high." It was reassuring to hear even some defense attorneys defend the death penalty. In Oklahoma it's politically correct to support the death penalty. If you have any doubts about it, then you must be a liberal or something even worse.

Death penalty cases in Oklahoma City are prosecuted by the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office and investigated by the Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD). The trial defense is either private attorneys or the Oklahoma County Public Defender's Office. The Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS)is a state agency that represents defendants in jurisdictions where there is no public defender's office and handles death row appeals for those already convicted at trial. Many Oklahoma City defendants will have a public defender at their trials and OIDS lawyers during the appellate process. The OIDS office is in Norman, on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Although many of them have worked for the Oklahoma County Public Defender's Office, OIDS lawyers are a bit removed from the Oklahoma City law enforcement scene (they don't hang out at the Oyster Bar) and are more outspoken in their criticism of the death penalty and Oklahoma's criminal justice system. They, too, were unfailingly polite, even friendly.

When I first began this project, I didn't think there was anything fundamentally wrong with the death penalty. Instead, I had the conviction that any problems with capital punishment were rare and isolated instances where mistakes, usually unintentional, had been made. I certainly didn't want to see the death penalty abolished, which I believed was the ultimate motivation for many of its critics. They didn't want the system to work, because they wanted to change it.

I knew the system wasn't perfect, but I believed that it worked. Criminals were convicted because they were guilty. And if they weren't guilty of the crime for which they had been convicted, well,they had done something else for which they should have been punished. When it came to the death penalty, I assumed that there was an even lower percentage of wrongful convictions, since capital cases were certainly held to a higher standard than other felonies, from investigation to arrest to trial to punishment.

The scandal that had brought Oklahoma to my attention, and made Jack Pointer almost burst a blood vessel on my radio show concerned a forensic chemist named Joyce Gilchrist. In 2001, the same year that the state of Oklahoma was executing inmates at an unprecedented rate, a series of high-court rulings, of ficial investigations, memos, and reports, as well as the usual chorus of outraged defense attorneys, had criticized Gilchrist for lying under oath "enhancing "the value of the evidence in her testimony and mismanaging the OCPD crime lab.

Gilchrist had been a forensic chemist for more than twenty years. She had worked on more than fifteen hundred felony cases. Cops and prosecutors loved her; defense attorneys didn't.

"Joyce Gilchrist is a kick-ass expert witness, "Assistant District Attorney Richard Wintory told me. "That's why everybody is out to get her."

"Joyce Gilchrist is the most lyingest, cheatingest bitch on this earth, " said one prominent Oklahoma defense attorney ...

Death and Justice
An Expose of Oklahoma's Death Row Machine
. Copyright © by Mark Fuhrman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Retired LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman is the New York Times bestselling author of Murder in Brentwood, Murder in Greenwich, Murder in Spokane, and Death and Justice. He lives in Idaho.

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