The Controversy of Capital Punishment: Background information when reading Confessions of an Innocent Man

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Confessions of an Innocent Man

by David R. Dow

Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow X
Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 304 pages
    Mar 31, 2020, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

The Controversy of Capital Punishment

This article relates to Confessions of an Innocent Man

Print Review

Lethal injection room at San Quentin PrisonIn David R. Dow's thriller, Confessions of an Innocent Man, the protagonist is sentenced to death for the murder of his wife. Since the murder is committed in Texas, one of the 30 U.S. states that still allows capital punishment, he is sent directly to death row. There he awaits his execution among the 200+ other residents. From 1976 to December 2018, some 550 prisoners have been executed in Texas alone. (In 1972, in the ruling of Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional, but this was negated by the 1976 ruling of Gregg v. Georgia, and states gradually began reincorporating the death penalty into their legal systems in the following years).

The total number of executions nationwide have ebbed as states are slowly abandoning the practice. (There were 98 executions in the U.S. in 1998, but only 25 in 2018.) In March 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on the death penalty. Saying the death penalty is "ineffective, irreversible and immoral," Newsom granted reprieves to all 737 Californians awaiting executions – sparing the lives of a quarter of the country's death row inmates as long as he is governor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has much to say on the subject:

The death penalty in America is a broken process from start to finish. Death sentences are predicted not by the heinousness of the crime but by the poor quality of the defense lawyers, the race of the accused or the victim, and the county and state in which the crime occurred. From 1976 to 2015, 1,392 executions occurred in the United States, and 995 of them took place in the South. Time and time again, we have proven that the criminal justice system fails to protect the innocent and persons with serious mental disabilities and illnesses from execution. Even the administration of executions is utterly flawed: Every method of execution comes with an intolerably high risk of extreme pain and torture.

They are not alone. Amnesty International calls the death penalty "the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment." It is also worth noting that the death penalty costs tax payers exorbitant sums of money. For example, each death penalty case in Texas comes with a $2.3 million price tag, which is roughly three times the cost of imprisoning someone in maximum security for 40 years.

Perhaps the greatest argument against the death penalty is the number of innocent people sentenced to death row. A 2014 study by statisticians and legal experts from the University of Michigan found that 4% of people given the death penalty are/were innocent. Innocent people have definitely been executed, including Carlos DeLuna, convicted of murder in 1983 and executed in 1989. Another man later confessed to the crime with which DeLuna had been charged. Jesse Tafero was likewise convicted of murder in 1976 and executed in 1990, but evidence later came to light indicating mistakes in the investigation. His co-defendant's sentence was overturned in 1992, but this was too late to save Tafero. In the years before DNA testing, such mistakes were even easier to make, and the consequences were grave. The protagonist in Dow's novel narrowly escapes execution at the very last minute, but plenty of real life accused criminals have not been so fortunate.

Lethal injection room at San Quentin Prison, courtesy of The Crime Report

Article by Donna Chavez

This "beyond the book article" relates to Confessions of an Innocent Man. It first ran in the April 17, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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