Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice

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Bill Kurtis, anchor of the wildly popular true-crime TV series Cold Case Files and American Justice, used to support the death penalty. But after observing the machinations of the justice system for thirty years, he came to a stunning realization that changed his life: Capital punishment is wrong. There can be no real justice in America until it is abolished.

In The Death Penalty on Trial, Kurtis takes readers on his most remarkable investigative journey yet. Together, we ...

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Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice

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Overview

Bill Kurtis, anchor of the wildly popular true-crime TV series Cold Case Files and American Justice, used to support the death penalty. But after observing the machinations of the justice system for thirty years, he came to a stunning realization that changed his life: Capital punishment is wrong. There can be no real justice in America until it is abolished.

In The Death Penalty on Trial, Kurtis takes readers on his most remarkable investigative journey yet. Together, we revisit murder scenes, study the evidence, and explore the tactical decisions made before and during trials that send innocent people to death row. We examine the eight main reasons why the wrong people are condemned to death, including overzealous and dishonest prosecutors, corrupt policemen, unreliable witnesses and expert witnesses, incompetent defense attorneys, bias judges, and jailhouse informants. We see why the new jewel of forensic science, DNA, is revealing more than innocence and guilt, opening a window into the criminal justice system that could touch off a revolution of reform. Ultimately we come to a remarkable conclusion: The possibility for error in our justice system is simply too great to allow the death penalty to stand as our ultimate punishment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
After 30 years as a CBS reporter and producer, Kurtis, who now hosts American Justice on A&E, re-examines his lifelong support of the death penalty, arguing eloquently that the risk of executing the wrong person is too great to let capital punishment stand. His reflections are motivated by the 2003 actions of then governor George Ryan of Illinois, a conservative Republican who commuted the sentences of the state's 164 death row inmates. Ryan's actions followed the exoneration through DNA evidence of 13 death row inmates. Kurtis frames his argument around two trials in which the wrong men were first convicted and then exonerated. Kurtis puts his reportorial skills to work, reconstructing in detail one case involving a brutal rape/murder, and another the stabbing of a mother, her two children and another child. Kurtis uses graphic, deeply disturbing descriptions of these murders as bases for arguing that inconceivable acts of violence can create a visceral sense that the death penalty is justified. Kurtis's refusal to shrink from this reality makes his indictment all the more compelling. This is not a book about abstract notions or legal technicalities; Kurtis examines our criminal justice system and finds it too "rife with the potential for error... to make death its product." Agent, Mort Janklow. (Nov.) Forecast: For people on the fence about capital punishment, this makes a good companion to Scott Turow's wider-ranging Ultimate Punishment. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Europeans despise us for it, religious leaders decry it, politicians hang their careers on it. The death penalty is part of the American landscape. And it's just plain wrong. So argues Kurtis, anchor of the A&E series American Justice, who has been on hand to report on some of the uglier capital crimes of the recent past: the Manson murders, Richard Speck's killing spree, John Wayne Gacy's slaughter of 20 young men. "Through these cases," he writes, "I learned there is true evil in the world, personified by predators who prey on the unsuspecting." Yet, in a species of what he recognizes as the peripeteia of classical tragedy-"the moment when you realize all you have believed is wrong"-he has come to disavow his long-standing belief in the righteousness and efficacy of the death penalty. So, too, did former Illinois governor George Ryan, who reviewed the books and discovered that half the capital cases in his state had been reversed and that the lawyers for nearly three dozen death-row inmates "had later been disbarred or at some point suspended from practicing law." Incompetent or corrupt lawyers are only part of the problem, Kurtis writes, turning to an in-depth analysis of two recent cases, one in Arizona and the other in Pennsylvania, where heinous murders were ascribed to apparently well-suited suspects and then, after agonizingly long periods of review, were revealed to have been sentenced to death through faulty evidence on one hand, a poor jury on the other, and razzle-dazzle lawyering on both, "which can tip the scales of justice." Supporters of capital punishment may reasonably object that Kurtis's sample set is too small to offer anything more than anecdotal evidence, but hecloses with a fine lectern-shaking set of proofs that, among other things, the death penalty is not a deterrent to homicide ("Too much time has been wasted on this argument"), is too expensive (it's cheaper to incarcerate than to kill), and is unequally applied across states and ethnic and class lines. Points well-made, well-taken, and well-worthy of discussion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586484460
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 2/26/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 218
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Kurtis passed the Kansas Bar in 1966, but instead of practicing law he embarked on a thirty-year career as a correspondent and anchorman with CBS Television. In 1985, he formed his own production company, Kurtis Productions, which produces A & E's award-winning Investigative Reports and television's original forensic series, Cold Case Files. Kurtis also anchors A & E's American Justice. He lives in Chicago and Sedan, Kansas.

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Table of Contents

Case 1 : Ray Krone
1 From the crime to the trial 27
2 Life on death row 51
3 The appeal 75
4 How could this have happened? 103
Case 2 : Thomas Kimbell
5 The crime 119
6 The trial 141
7 The appeal 179
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