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Author confronts his doubts about the death penalty.
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CAN'T BE BEAT
or most of his adult life,
when it came to the death
penalty, Scott Turow swung
like a pendulum.
The best-selling author and lawyer
spent his college years believing in the
fundamental goodness of people. He
found capital punishment barbaric.
Then he became a federal prosecu-
tor, and although he didn't handle
any death cases, he knew people who
did. And he was sure, given the
opportunity, he could ask a jury to
condemn a murderer.
Then, after he became a private
attorney, he was asked to represent one
of those murderers, an inmate who
had once been on death row. The pris-
oner, Turow learned, was innocent.
Back and forth he went. Every time
he thought he knew how he stood on
the issue, something would come
along to send him in the other direc-
tion. He.took to calling himself a
"death penalty agnostic" whenever
So when the governor of Illinois,
Turow's home state, invited him to
join a commission established in
2000 to evaluate reforms for the
death penalty, he quickly agreed.
"It was important work," Turow
concluded, "and would offer me the
chance to systematically contemplate
an issue that had long divided me
He's no longer divided. The work on
the commission — reviewing dozens of
cases, visiting prisons, listening to the
relatives of murder victims — stopped
the pendulum at opponent.
His journey is explained in a new
book, Ultimate Punishment: A
Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing With
the Death Penalty (Farrar, Straus and
He said in a phone interview that
even though he's finally made up his
mind, he's careful not to find fault
with those who may disagree with
him, or may be doing their own
swinging back and forth.
"I never criticize anyone's opinions
on the death penalty," he said. "At one
time or another, I've held them all."
Turow, 54, currently a partner in
the Chicago law firm of Sonnenschein
Nath & Rosenthal, where most of the
work he does is pro bono, may seem
like an odd fit for a governor's com-
mission on capital punishment, more
celebrity than cerebral.
Born in Chicago to a gynecologist
father and teacher mother, Turow
was raised in a middle-class Jewish
family, who first made its home in
the Jewish enclave of West Rogers
D.: A t.24N. 'W rtl TH!
Author Scott Throw: A
Park, before moving to the North
Shore suburb of Winnetka.
He's been married since 1971 to
the former Annette Weisberg, a
painter with whom he has three
Best known for his legal page-turn,-
ers (Presumed Innocent, The Burden of
Proof Reversible Errors) — many of
them populated with Jewish charac-
ters who grapple with themes of guilt,
social justice and parent-child rela-
tionships — he's been on the cover of