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November 21, 2003 - Image 91

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE GALLERY RESTAURANT

Time and led the singing of "Take Me
Out to the Ballgame" during a sev-
enth-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.
He's played in a rock band with fellow
writers Stephen King and Dave Barry.
"I am sure many Illinois residents
were startled to see someone whose
name they might know as a story-
teller chosen to help deliberate about
what is probably the gravest real-life
problem in the law," he writes.
But the Harvard-educated Turow
has continued to work as a lawyer,
even as his writing has flourished,
and he believes he's not unique in his
wrestling with the issue of capital
punishment.
In fact, he thinks a nationwide
assessment of the death penalty is
under way, one that will eventually
lead to abolition.
Just 10 years ago, this was unthink-
able. Support for capital punishment
was overwhelming among politicians
and the public.
"It was a closed issue," he said.

Reconsideration

Cracks in the armor came from the
innocent. The past decade has seen 58
death-row inmates exonerated nation-
wide, including nine so far in 2003.
Even people who support capital
punishment recoil at the thought of
a system so vulnerable to error it
could make a deadly mistake, Turow
said, and that's the main reason some
polls show declining support for the
death penalty
"Americans are idealistic about jus-
tice," he said. "They want it to func-
tion symbolically, to reaffirm their
belief in the law's ability to make this
chaotic thing we call life more order-
ly. They have no appetite for execut-
ing innocent people."
In Illinois, then-Gov. George Ryan
had no appetite for it, either. After 13
people on that state's death row were
cleared, he halted all executions and
set up the special commission that
included Turow.
At the time of his appointment,
Turow already had personal experi-
ence with two mishandled death
cases. In one, he helped free a man
wrongly convicted. In the other, he
helped win a reduced sentence after
bringing forward information about
the killer's awful upbringing in a .
crack house.
But even he wasn't ready for what
he saw once the commission began
its work, especially the frequency of
certain problems in capital-punish-
ment cases: coerced confessions,

manufactured evidence, mistaken
identifications.
"It really was surprising to me to
see how often a terrible crime pushes
well-meaning people in directions
they wouldn't ordinarily go," he said.
Or maybe not so surprising.
The kinds of cases that draw the
death penalty — the "worst of the
worst," horrific murders that shock
and outrage the community — are
fraught with emotion, Turow said.
And therefore peril.
"There is a natural inclination to
want to restore order," he said.
"There is a desire among authorities
to comfort the community, and to
some extent to comfort themselves.
And what you can get is a rush to
judgment."
Not always, of course. But often
enough, the author said.
Yet even with his growing doubts
about the system's ability to separate
the guilty from the innocent, Turow
said he looked hard for reasons to
support the death penalty.
He examined some of the argu-
ments in favor:
• The death penalty is a deterrent
to crime. (If that were true, he won-
dered, why do some states with exe-
cutions have higher murder rates than
neighboring states without?)
• The death penalty is cheaper
than imprisoning a killer for life. (It
isn't, he concluded, because of the
costs associated with the various
automatic appeals.)
• The death penalty is the ultimate
punishment for the ultimate evil. (But
who decides? Turow found no consis-
tency or logic in its application.)
• The death penalty means that
killers don't wind up better off than
their victims. (Turow: 'Allowing sur-
vivors to rule the death penalty
process makes no more sense than it
would to allow only the families of
the dead in the World Trade Center
attack to determine what will be
rebuilt on the site.")
Even after knocking down these
arguments, Turow admitted he is still
attracted to the idea of execution for
the perpetrators of "crimes of
unimaginable dimension" and for
convicted murderers who murder
again while behind bars.
The idea is one thing, though, and
the reality is another.
"In the end, you have to accept the
limits of what any human process can
accomplish," he said. To expect the
system to determine ultimate evil and
who committed it is just asking too
much, in my opinion." 17

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87

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