Death Row Books

BOOKS – NEW 2015 “An Evil Day in Georgia”

Through the lens of a 1927 murder and the ensuing trials of three suspects, An Evil Day in Georgia examines the death penalty system in Prohibition-era Georgia. James Hugh Moss, a black man, and Clifford Thompson, a white man, both from Tennessee, were accused of the murder of store owner Coleman Osborn in rural north Georgia. Thought to be involved in the illegal interstate trade of alcohol, they were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death on circumstantial evidence within a month of the murder. Thompson’s wife, Eula Mae Elrod, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death the following year, but was released in 1936 after her case gained notoriety in the press. “Moss, Thompson, and Elrod…were almost classic examples of perceived social outsiders or rebels who ran afoul of a judicial system not designed to protect them but to weed them out and discourage others who might think about challenging the system,” author Robert N. Smith says. “Moreover, all three trials were held in circumstances where local tensions ran so high that conviction was virtually assured.” John Bessler, author of Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders’ Eighth Amendment, said, “In An Evil Day in Georgia, author Robert Smith raises lingering questions about the guilt of two men—one white and one black—executed for a murder in the Deep South in the 1920s. . . . The telling of this story, one that played out in the Jim Crow era and the days of bootlegging and the Ku Klux Klan, exposes the death penalty’s imperfections even as it calls into question the veracity of a woman’s confession, later recanted, that once brought her within a stone’s throw of the state’s electric chair.”

(R. Smith, “An Evil Day In Georgia,” The University of Tennessee Press, 2015.)


BOOKS: “The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective”The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective by Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle, now in its Fifth Edition, is “widely regarded as the leading authority on the death penalty in its international context.” The book explores the movement toward worldwide abolition of the death penalty, with an emphasis on international human right principles. It discusses issues including arbitrariness, innocence, and deterrence. Paul Craig, Professor of English Law at Oxford University, said of the fourth edition, “Its rigorous scholarship and the breadth of its coverage are hugely impressive features; its claim to ‘worldwide’ coverage is no idle boast. This can fairly lay claim to being the closest thing to a definitive source-book on this important subject.”

Jeanne Bishop has written a new book about her life and spiritual journey after her sister was murdered in Illinois in 1990. Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer tells Bishop’s personal story of grief, loss, and of her eventual efforts to confront and reconcile with her sister’s killer. She also addresses larger issues of capital punishment, life sentences for juvenile offenders, and restorative justice. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan said of the book, “When I commuted the death sentences of everyone on Illinois’s death row, I expressed the hope that we could open our hearts and provide something for victims’ families other than the hope of revenge. I quoted Abraham Lincoln: ‘I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.’ Jeanne Bishop’s compelling book tells the story of how devotion to her faith took her face-to-face with her sister’s killer …. She reminds us of a core truth: that our criminal justice system cannot be just without mercy.”

BOOKS: “Examining Wrongful Convictions”A new book, Examining Wrongful Convictions:

Stepping Back, Moving Forward, explores the causes and related issues behind the many wrongful convictions in the U.S. Compiled and edited by four criminal justice professors from the State University of New York, the text draws from U.S. and international sources. Prof. Dan Simon of the University of Southern California said, ”This book offers the most comprehensive and insightful treatment of wrongful convictions to date,” noting that it delves into topics such as the wars on drugs and crime, the culture of punitiveness, and racial animus, as they relate to mistakes in the justice system. The editors note that, “[The] essential premise of this book is that much of value can be learned by ‘stepping back’ from the traditional focus on the direct or immediate causes and consequences of wrongful convictions,” with the hope of moving forward by “probing for the root causes of miscarriages of justice.”

BOOKS: Imprisoned by the Past: Warren McCleskey and the American Death PenaltyA new book by Prof. Jeffrey Kirchmeier of the City University of New York examines the recent history of race and the death penalty in the U.S. The book uses the story of a Georgia death row inmate named Warren McCleskey, whose challenge to the state’s death penalty went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1987 the Court held (5-4) that his statistical evidence showing that Georgia’s system of capital punishment was applied in a racially disproportionate way was insufficient to overturn his death sentence. McCleskey was eventually executed. The book connects this individual case to the broader issue of racial bias in the American death penalty. Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said of the book,”No legal decision in the last half of the 20th century characterized America’s continuing failure to confront its history of racial inequality more than the McCleskey decision. Jeff Kirchmeier’s welcomed and insightful book brings much needed context and perspective to this critically important issue. Compelling and thoughtful, this book is a must read for those trying to understand America’s death penalty and its sordid relationship to our failure to overcome three centuries of racial injustice.”


New Book: I Am Troy Davis

February 19, 2014

I believe capital punishment is one of the critical social justice issues of our country, and is, in many ways, the sharp edge of a deeply flawed criminal justice system. With 143 convicted death row inmates exonerated to date, an increasing awareness of how race, poverty and geography determine who is sent to death row, and a growing number of states repealing death penalty laws or imposing execution moratoriums, it has become clear that, from the grassroots up, the United States is fundamentally questioning this draconian punishment and its biased, arbitrary application.

This is why I am writing today to let you know about my new book, I Am Troy Davis.

You may remember Troy Davis’s name: On September 21, 2011 Troy was put to death by the State of Georgia, despite compelling evidence of his innocence. Troy’s execution was protested by hundreds of thousands across the globe, and broke new records on Twitter. Troy was named one of Time Magazine’s top ten influential people for 2011. How did one man capture the world’s imagination and become the iconic face of the campaign to end the death penalty?

I co-authored I Am Troy Davis with Troy and his sister Martina Davis-Correia, also working closely with other Davis family members in the lead-up to and aftermath of Troy’s execution. The book tells the intimate story of an ordinary man caught up in an inexorable tragedy. From his childhood in racially charged Savannah; to the confused events that led to the 1989 murder of a police officer; to Davis’s sudden arrest, conviction, and two-decade fight to prove his innocence; I Am Troy Davis takes us inside a broken legal system where life and death hang in the balance. It is also an inspiring testament to the unbreakable bond of family, to the resilience of love, and to how even when you reach the end of justice, voices from across the world will rise together in chorus and proclaim, “I am Troy Davis,” I stand with you.

It is my hope that the book will serve as a platform for education and mobilization around the death penalty and other egregious aspects of our criminal justice system. I am hoping that you may be willing to read I Am Troy Davis, and review or write about it on your blog (as well as other social media platforms that you may be a part of), so that your online community will be aware of the book, and use it as a tool in their/your discourse and analysis of these critical issues. I would also be very willing to engage directly with your readers in a discussion about the book and the issues it exposes.

Jen Marlowe

Author, I Am Troy Davis

Twitter: @donkeysaddleorg

STORY : Ex-death row inmate shares son’s story of forgiveness, Two years out of prison, she’s now promoting ‘Set Free’ book- Gaile Owen


It’s the “normal” things that matter so much to Gaile Owens these days.

Things like walking in the park with her grandchildren, holding two steady jobs, even mundane errands around a city that is still a little foreign to her.

“You hear people say, ‘I have to do a lot of things’,” Owens, 61, said Wednesday. “My favorite thing to say is, ‘I GET to do these things.'”

That wasn’t the case for most of her life. Three years ago, Owens was preparing to be executed by lethal injection for paying a hit man to kill her husband in late 1984 after what she described as a life of humiliation and physical and sexual abuse at his hands. But with the help of her son, Stephen, and numerous advocates in the community, she was able to secure a commutation of her death sentence from then-Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2010 and her freedom from the state parole board a year later.

She has remained largely silent about the past 29 years, but that has changed with the publishing of her son’s book, “Set Free,” which documents his struggle to find meaning and forgiveness in the murder of his father and the condemning of his mother to death. Gaile and Stephen Owens will speak Thursday at a forum hosted by John Seigenthaler, former Tennessean publisher and editor and one of the Owens’ key allies in the fight to free her.

Gaile Owens spoke for the first time with The Tennessean in a phone interview Wednesday, joined by her son so they could talk about his new book. She’s still not ready to talk about the murder or the abuse she says she endured from her husband. But she wants people to know about her family’s journey of faith, forgiveness and hope.

“I think his journey is important. I think it speaks of hope for other people,” she said of her son’s book. “No one will have walked the same journey we have, but everybody has a story and everybody has got places in their life where they needed forgiveness.”

Forgiveness found

Stephen Owens said the past 30 years have been fraught with anger and confusion. He was with his mother one day in 1984 when they found his father beaten to death with a tire iron in their Shelby County home. Gaile Owens and the man she hired, Sidney Porterfield, were both convicted and sentenced to die. Porterfield remains on death row today.

Forgiveness didn’t come easy.

Stephen Owens had no contact with his mother from the time he testified against her at trial in 1986 until Aug. 23, 2009, when he finally decided to visit her in prison. In “Set Free,” he describes an overwhelmingly emotional, three-hour meeting, ending with a tearful hug. It was then that he heard words he had waited nearly 30 years to hear.

“I’m sorry, Stephen,” Gaile Owens told her son in a conversation he describes in “Set Free.” “I know I can’t change anything now, but I just need to ask for your forgiveness.”

That gave him a chance to say the words he felt God had wanted him to say for so long.

“I forgive you, mom,” he responded.

BOOKS 2013

Women Who Kill Men: California Courts, Gender, and the Press examines the role that gender played in the trials of women accused of murder in California between 1870-1958. The authors trace the changing views of the public towards women and how these views may have affected the outcomes of the cases. Some defendants faced the death penalty and were executed; some were spared. Often the public was deeply fascinated with all aspects of the trial and punishment. The book, written by Gordon Morris Bakken and Brenda Farrington, provides in-depth details of 18 murder trials through court records and news coverage.



A new book by Kathleen Cairns explores the intriguing story of Barbara Graham, who was executed for murder in California in 1955, and whose case became a touchstone in the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America, Cairns examines how different narratives portrayed Graham, with prosecutors describing her as mysterious and seductive, while some of the media emphasized Graham’s abusive and lonely childhood. The book also describes how Graham’s case became crucial to the death-penalty abolitionists of the time, as questions of guilt were used to raise awareness of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the death penalty.Cairns is a lecturer in the Department of History at California Polytechnic State University.  She has also written The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison (Nebraska, 2007) and Hard Time at Tehachapi: California’s First Women’s Prison.

A new international manual covering psychiatric and psychological issues arising in capital cases has been prepared by a team of forensic psychiatrists for use by attorneys, judges, and mental health officials. The Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases sets out model structures for psychiatric assessment and report writing for every stage of a death penalty case, from pre-trial to execution. It also discusses ethical issues, particularly with regard to an inmate’s competence to be executed. The handbook is published by The Death Penalty Project (DPP) and Forensic Psychiatry Chambers, both based in England. It is available online or in print from DPP.A new international manual covering psychiatric and psychological issues arising in capital cases has been prepared by a team of forensic psychiatrists for use by attorneys, judges, and mental health officials. The Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases sets out model structures for psychiatric assessment and report writing for every stage of a death penalty case, from pre-trial to execution. It also discusses ethical issues, particularly with regard to an inmate’s competence to be executed. The handbook is published by The Death Penalty Project (DPP) and Forensic Psychiatry Chambers, both based in England. It is available online or in print from DPP.

The Michigan Committee Against Capital Punishment has published a collection of over 40 years of testimony, brochures, and other information by attorney and death-penalty expert Eugene Wanger. The collection begins with the resolution from Michigan‘s 1962 constitutional convention banning capital punishment in the state. It includes Wanger’s testimony at numerous hearings opposing bills attempting to reinstate the death penalty, as well as brochures and short articles. The bound and boxed volume provides a comprehensive overview of the history of death-penalty legislation in Michigan. Through legislation in 1846, the state became first English-speaking government to abolish the death penalty for murder and lesser crimes.


A forthcoming book, Fighting for Their Lives: Inside the Experience of Capital Defense Attorneys by Susannah Sheffer, explores the impact of the death penalty on defense attorneys with clients on death row. Through interviews with capital defenders, the author examines how attorneys try to cope with the stress of representing clients facing execution. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, said, “This is an important book. The death penalty’s impact is so much broader than we realize, and these attorneys are affected in ways that even I had not imagined. I am grateful to Susannah Sheffer for bringing these stories to light.” Richard Burr, a prominent capital defense attorney, called the book “a beautiful, heartbreaking, and above all uplifting story that makes an essential contribution to literature on the death penalty.” The book is available through Amazon and other outlets.

A new book by Professor Robert Bohm of the University of Central Florida examines the personal impact of capital punishment on those involved in the criminal justice system, beyond the victim and perpetrator of the crime. Bohm listened to those involved in all steps of the judicial process, including investigators, jurors, and the execution team. He has probed the effects of the death penalty on the families of both the murder victim and the offender. The book, Capital Punishment’s Collateral Damage, includes testimonials from members of each group, “allowing the participants…to describe in their own words their role in the process and, especially, its effects on them.” Bohm concludes that this “collateral damage is another good argument for rethinking the wisdom of the ultimate sanction.”


A new book, “Where Justice and Mercy Meet: Catholic Opposition to the Death Penalty,” offers a comprehensive discussion of Catholic teaching on capital punishment. It explores a wide range of issues related to the death penalty, including racism, mental illness, and economic disparities. The book is edited by Trudy Conway and David Matzko McCarthy, both professors at Mount St. Mary’s University, and Vicki Schieber–the mother of a murder victim. It includes a foreword by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking. Joseph A. Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston, said the book “is a treasure trove of information on the necessity and urgency to abolish an antiquated approach to capital crimes.”

Book :‘Injustice System’ uncovers doubt in death row conviction

‘Injustice System’ uncovers doubt in death row conviction photo MOst books built around convictions of innocent defendants end with exoneration. In “The Injustice System,” the alleged innocent is still locked in a prison cell and might never emerge. Any well researched book about a suspected wrongful conviction is by definition shot through with dramatic tension; after all, if the wrong person is serving prison time, the actual murderer or rapist or robber might be at large, continuing to commit horrific crimes. The tension within the pages of “The Injustice System” is relentless.

Author Clive Stafford Smith is a former Atlanta lawyer (now based alternately in New Orleans and his native England) who earned a law degree in the United States so he could work on putting an end to the death penalty in the long run and save individual inmates from execution in the short run.

Driven more by principle than a won-loss record in court or a hefty salary, Stafford Smith is an unconventional professional who dives into high-stakes cases. His previous book, “Eight O’Clock Ferry to the Windward Side,” chronicles his experience representing prisoners at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where alleged terrorists are detained without the usual safeguards that protect individuals from wrongful incarceration.

When he first met Krishna “Kris” Maharaj, the primary subject of “The Injustice System,” Stafford Smith was affiliated with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and representing prisoners in capital cases. At the request of British diplomatic officials, he took on Maharaj’s case.

Police arrested Maharaj, a Trinidad businessman of Indian heritage, in 1986 for allegedly murdering former business partner Derrick Moo Young and the partner’s son, Duane. The double murder occurred inside the DuPont Plaza hotel in downtown Miami. Maharaj proclaimed his innocence and said he could prove it if given the opportunity. But police, prosecutors and jurors did not believe him. Sentenced to death, Maharaj was jailed in Florida State Prison. Maharaj hoped to find competent legal representation to handle a final appeal, most of his appellate routes already having been exhausted before Stafford Smith learned about the case.

Based on his own investigation, Stafford Smith alleges evidence was cooked by an overzealous homicide detective; prosecutors bent the principles of justice they are sworn to uphold; forensic examiners provided biased readings of evidence; witnesses committed perjury; a trial judge was less than devoted to evenhandedness; and appellate justices dismissed powerful new evidence suggesting Maharaj’s innocence.

Most upsetting of all to an avid defense lawyer such as Stafford Smith, he claims the defense lawyer hired by Maharaj for the trial was grossly incompetent. In truth, Stafford Smith worried the defense lawyer lost the trial intentionally because of threats aimed at his family by South American drug dealers, whom Stafford Smith suspected was involved in the murders.

As in so many alleged wrongful conviction cases — and in so many documented exonerations — it is puzzling to calculate how a dozen jurors all failed to find “reasonable doubt.” Stafford Smith wants to believe he can find a way to prove Maharaj’s innocence. The reality is, however, that Stafford Smith will likely go to his own death without winning freedom for his client. That knowledge is especially painful to Stafford Smith, because he believes his independent investigation has identified the actual killer of Moo Young and his son.

BOOKS part3: news books 2012 Death row’s testimony – death penalty

A new book by Professor Robert Bohm of the University of Central Florida looks at death-penalty decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court prior to the modern era of capital punishment that began in 1968. In The Past As Prologue, Bohm examines 39 Court decisions, covering issues such as clemency, jury selection, coerced confessions, and effective representation. These early decisions have shaped modern rulings on capital punishment, and the book provides an analysis of these effects. In addition, the cases provide an historical perspective on prior death penalty practices. Bohm is a Professor of Criminal Justice and has published widely in this field and on capital punishment.

Survivor on Death Row, a new e-book co-authored by death row inmate Romell Broom and Clare Nonhebel, tells the story of Ohio‘s botched attempt to execute Broom by lethal injection in 2009. In September of that year, Broom was readied for execution and placed on the gurney, but the procedure was terminated after corrections officials spent over two hours attempting to find a suitable vein for the lethal injection. Broom was removed from the death chamber and has remained on death row ever since.  In the book, Broom discusses his troubled childhood and his life of over 25 years on death row, including his repeated requests for new DNA testing and a new legal team. Broom has always maintained his innocence.  Jon Snow, a reporter for Channel 4 News in England, called the book “A horrifying story embracing all the evils of the death penalty. Bad forensics, dodgy DNA, awful lawyers, render this a must-read.”

A new book by Larry Koch, Colin Wark and John Galliher discusses the status of the death penalty in the U.S. in light of recent legislative activity and court decisions. In The Death of the American Death Penalty, the authors examine the impact of factors such as economic conditions, public sentiment, the role of elites, the media, and population diversity on the death penalty debate. The book highlights the recent abolition decisions in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois, and the surprising decline of the death penalty even in the deep South. James R. Acker, Distinguished Teaching Professor in Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, said, “Support for capital punishment in this country, as measured by the laws authorizing it, prosecutors’ enthusiasm for seeking it, jury verdicts that dispatch it, and executioners’ final deliverance, has eroded rapidly in recent years. A decade after the publication of its predecessor and carrying on in that volume’s fine tradition, The Death of the American Death Penalty provides detailed explanations—the where, how, and why—of these dramatic developments in death penalty laws and practices.”

A new book by Professor Harry M. Ward of the University of Richmond examines the death penalty in Virginia at a time when executions were carried out for all to see. In Public Executions in Richmond, Virginia: A History, 1782-1907, Ward provides a history of the hangings and, during the Civil War, firing-squad executions in Virginia’s capital city. Thousands of witnesses attended the executions, which were seen as a form of entertainment. Public executions ended with the introduction of the electric chair in 1908. In 1995, Virginia adopted lethal injection as its primary form of execution.

Long-time death penalty scholar Hugo Adam Bedau died on August 13, 2012 . Dr. Bedau had been the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, and is best known for his work on capital punishment. Dr. Bedau frequently testified about the death penalty before the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures. He authored several books about the death penalty, including The Death Penalty in America (1964; 4th edition, 1997), The Courts, the Constitution, and Capital Punishment (1977), Death is Different (1987), and Killing as Punishment (2004), and co-authored In Spite of Innocence (1992).  This last book, written with Prof. Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Constance Putnam (Dr. Bedau’s wife), contained one of the best early collections of people who had been wrongly convicted in death penalty cases. In 1997, Bedau received the August Vollmer Award of the American Society of Criminology, and in 2003 he received the Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU of Massachusetts.  Dr. Bedau was a founding member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

A new book by Professors Saundra Westervelt and Kimberly Cook looks at the lives of eighteen people who had been wrongfully sentenced to death and who were later freed from death row. In Life After Death Row: Exonerees’ Search for Community and Identity, the authors focus on three central areas affecting those who had to begin a new life after leaving years of severe confinement: the seeming invisibility of these individuals after their release; the complicity of the justice system in allowing that invisibility; and the need for each of them to confront their personal trauma. C. Ronald Huff, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, noted, “The authors skillfully conduct a journey inside the minds of exonerees, allowing readers to see the world from their unique perspectives.”

A new electronic book by former journalist Peter Rooney offers an in-depth look at the case of Joseph Burrowswho was exonerated fromIllinois’s death row in 1996. In Die Free: A True Story of Murder, Betrayal and Miscarried Justice, Rooney explains how Burrows was sentenced to death for the murder of William Dulin based on snitch testimony.  He was convicted primarily on the word of Gayle Potter, who recanted her testimony eight years later and admitted to committing the crime herself. According to one review, “Rooney makes it clear his book Die Free isn’t an argument against the death penalty, but simply another example of why such an extreme punishment should be re-evaluated. His points are made clearly and with merit as he details obvious evidence withholding by an over-aggressive district attorney, threats and intimidation of a borderline mentally challenged man, and the old school thoughts of little women versus big, burly men.”   Rooney is a former staff writer for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and is currently the director of public affairs at Amherst College.  Joe Burrows died at age 56 in 2009.  This case, and similar exonerations, led to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011. The book is available for electronic download on

A new book by Clive Stafford Smith, a British lawyer who has defended death row inmates in the U.S., offers an in-depth view of capital punishment in America. In Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America, Stafford Smith examines the case of Kris Maharaj, a British citizen who was sentenced to death in Florida for a double murder, to expose problems in the justice system. The book reveals disturbing details of Maharaj’s case, including anomalies in the prosecution files–witnesses with exculpatory testimony who were never called, falsified and suppressed evidence, and reports that a witness to the shootings failed a lie detector test. Maharaj’s death sentence was later commuted to life without parole. Stafford Smith is the Legal Director of Reprieve, which provides legal assistance in death penalty cases. In 2005 he received the Gandhi International Peace Award.  He was a founder of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, defending death row inmates in that state.

 American Bar Association recently published The State of Criminal Justice 2012, an annual report that examines major issues, trends and significant changes in America’s criminal justice system. This publication serves as a valuable resource for academics, students, and policy-makers in the area of criminal justice, and contains 24 chapters focusing on specific areas of the criminal justice field. The chapter devoted to capital punishment was written by Ronald Tabak, special counsel and pro bono coordinator at Skadden Arps. Tabak addresses the decline in the use of the death penalty, the geographic, racial and economic disparities in implementing capital punishment, important Supreme Court decisions, and other issues such as the continuing risk of wrongful executions. In concluding, he writes, “Ultimately, our society must decide whether to continue with a system that has been found in study after study, and has been recognized by a growing number of leading judges, to be far more expensive than the actual alternative – in which life without parole is the most serious punishment. In view of the lack of persuasive evidence of societal benefits from capital punishment, this is one ineffectual, wasteful government program whose elimination deserves serious consideration.”

SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Scalia says death penalty, abortion, gay rights are easy calls

October 5, 2012

Scalia calls himself a “textualist” and, as he related to a few hundred people who came to buy his new book and hear him speak in Washington the other day, that means he applies the words in the Constitution as they were understood by the people who wrote and adopted them.

So Scalia parts company with former colleagues who have come to believe capital punishment is unconstitutional. The framers of the Constitution didn’t think so and neither does he.

The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state,” Scalia said at the American Enterprise Institute.

He contrasted his style of interpretation with that of a colleague who tries to be true to the values of the Constitution as he applies them to a changing world. This imaginary justice goes home for dinner and tells his wife what a wonderful day he had, Scalia said.

This imaginary justice, Scalia continued, announces that it turns out “`the Constitution means exactly what I think it ought to mean.’ No kidding.”

As he has said many times before, the justice said the people should turn to their elected lawmakers, not judges, to advocate for abortion rights or an end to the death penalty. Or they should try to change the Constitution, although Scalia said the Constitution makes changing it too hard by requiring 38 states to ratify an amendment for it to take effect.

“It is very difficult to adopt a constitutional amendment,” Scalia said. He once calculated that less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, residing in the 13 least populous states, could stop an amendment, he said.

In a lengthy question-and-answer session, Scalia once again emphatically denied there’s a rift among the court’s conservative justices following Chief Justice John Roberts‘ vote to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care law. Scalia dissented from Roberts’ opinion.

“Look it, do not believe anything you read about the internal workings of the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is either a lie because the press knows we won’t respond _ they can say whatever they like and we won’t respond _ or else it’s based on information from someone who has violated his oath of confidentiality, that is to say, a non-reliable source. So one way or another it is not worthy of belief.”

“We can disagree with one another on the law without taking it personally,” he said.


The issue of gay rights, or more specifically same-sex marriage, is expected to be a big one in the term that began this week. While the justices initially were scheduled to discuss the topic at their private conference in late September, it now appears likely that they will not make a decision about whether to take up a gay marriage case until after the presidential election, which would mean arguments would not take place until the spring.

The justices have a variety of pending appeals they could choose to hear that deal in one way or another with gay marriage.

One set of cases looks at whether same-sex couples who are legally married can be deprived of a range of federal benefits that are available to heterosexual couples. Another case deals with California’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and federal court rulings striking down the amendment. An Arizona case deals with a state law that revoked domestic partner benefits, making them available only to married couples. Arizona’s constitution bans gay marriage.


The audio of Roberts reading a summary of the health care decision is available online through the website at

DEATH ROW: Journalist and campaigner Eric Allison gives his inside track

May 31, 2012 Source :

by Eric Allison

During my time behind bars, I acquired something of a reputation as a jailhouse lawyer.

Not major league; I didn’t reverse any wrongful convictions, or take a case to the House of Lords, as some of my more illustrious fellow con lawyers managed; but I enjoyed some minor victories and liked being a thorn in the side of my keepers and fighting them on behalf of prisoners with a grievance occupied my time nicely.

My work – all pro bono – did not endear me to the authorities who held me; no penal system takes kindly to criticism from those it locks up.

But my experience and the payback from my keepers, pales into insignificance alongside the real jailhouse lawyers brought to life  in the pages of a remarkable book of that name.

Jailhouse Lawyers is the work of one of the most celebrated prisoners in the American prison system, Mumia Abu Jamal, who has been on death row in a Pennsylvania penitentiary since he was convicted of murdering a police officer in Philadelphia in 1981.

Jamal, 54, is perhaps the best known prisoner in the world; feted by lawyers and academics and supported by activists worldwide.

He has been given honorary citizenship of 25 cities, including Paris, Copenhagen and Montreal.

Although no mean lawyer himself, the book is not about the author.

He takes an admirably humble view of his own achievements, preferring to pay homage to the celebrated convict lawyers who have taken cases to the highest courts in the US. Practitioners who, in Jamal’s words, have learned their law, “not in the ivory towers of multi-billion-dollar-endowed universities”, but in the “hidden dark dungeons of America.”

The term dungeons is not misused; in the US, prisoners who offend their keepers are placed in the “hole” and the common thread linking those featured in the book is the amount of time they have all spent in the hole, some for decades.

And while some penal systems “dress up” the names used for isolation blocks (care and separation units, in this country for example), in the US, the hole is precisely that – a hole in the ground. Hardly the places to prepare to take groundbreaking cases to the United States Supreme Court, as many of those named have done.

In 1991, a group of academics studied the disciplinary actions, against prisoners, in jails across the US.

They found no segment of the american prison population outweighed jailhouse lawyers when it came to prisoners targeted by the administrators for punishment.

The prison lawyers headed the table, “scoring” twice as many spells in the hole as, for example, gang members or political prisoners.

Despite this persecution, many have become legends in their own legal time; often teaching other inmates to follow what has become a successful tradition.

The fact that jailhouse lawyers have become so firmly entrenched in US legal circles is a massive tribute to those practising their craft under the most restrictive and oppressive conditions.

Men such as Richard Mayberry, who has won more civil actions from behind bars than most conventional lawyers win in a lifetime.

In legal circles in the US, it is said to be a rare law report which does not begin or end with Mayberry mentioned in the citation or text.

Or David Ruiz, who, in 1971, naively complained about prison conditions to the assistant warden of the Texas penitentiary which held him. That action earned a long spell in the hole.

Learning fast, Ruiz rewrote his complaints and passed them out to a lawyer and began the battle which would change Texas penal history. A decade later, the United States Supreme Court forced the Texas penal authorities to spend billions to bring their system into “some semblance of modernity”.

The fight for justice from inside has never been easy. Even in supposedly enlightened times, attempts have been made to silence the jailhouse lawyers.

In 1996 the then President Bill Clinton put his name to the Prison Litigation Reform Act which, far from reforming, put financial and legal restraints on those who sued from behind bars.

The author’s death sentence is currently under review. In April this year, the United States Court of Appeals unanimously declared his death sentence to be unconstitutional.

His case was remanded for a new hearing.

The death penalty  may be imposed again or Abu-Jamal may receive a sentence of life without parole.

Irrespective of his fate, this compelling and inspiring work should be mandatory reading by those who make and practice law.

Reform rarely comes from the top, the poker player holding four aces never asks for a new deal.

Jailhouse lawyers worldwide have usually been dealt a bad hand in life; these chronicles show us that, even with the odds stacked against them, they do not always lose the game.

Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v the USA. By Mumia Abu-Jamal, Crossroads Books, PO Box 287 NW6 5QU £11.99 + 10% postage. Email: crossroadsbooks@

• Selma James presents her new book, Sex, Race and Class – The Perspective of Winning, at the Owl Bookshop  207-209 Kentish Town Road, NW5 2JU  at 6.30pm tonight (Thursday)

BOOKS : “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context”

A new book published in electronic format, The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context by Diann Rust-Tierney, examines the problem of arbitrariness in the death penalty since its reinstatement in 1976. Through an analysis of the cases of Gary Graham and Troy Davis, the author argues that race, wealth and geography play a more significant role in determining who faces capital punishment than the facts of the crime itself. Both defendants had significant claims of innocence; both were black defendants who were ultimately executed in the South; in both cases, the victim in the underlying murder was white.  Graham was executed in Texas in 2000 and Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011.  Rust-Tierney writes, “How do you administer the most severe punishment imaginable in a manner that is accurate, free from bias and demonstrably fair? Until we are all seen and treated as equal, we cannot afford to keep capital punishment.”  Ms. Rust-Tierney is an attorney and Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Download a copy of the ebook here.

(D. Rust-Tierney, “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context,” McKinney & Associates, April 2012).  The Death Penalty Failed Experiment is the second publication in McKinney & Associates’ Voice Matters: An eBook Series on Public Relations with a Conscience.  See Arbitrariness and Race.  Read more Books on the death penalty.  Listen to DPIC’s Podcast on Arbitrariness.