A death-penalty trial is lent a fascinating air by its very low-profile, routine nature in Pohlman's (Political...


THE WHOLE TRUTH?: A Case of Murder on the Appalachian Trail

A death-penalty trial is lent a fascinating air by its very low-profile, routine nature in Pohlman's (Political Science/Dickinson Coll.) careful, revelatory delineation of the legal process. Here is a lucid narrative of a typical murder trial, written to give the average citizen a taste of how our legal process works when not turned by the media glare into a prurient sideshow. This case concerns the murder of one young woman and the shooting of another while they were camping in central Pennsylvania. There is no doubt as to the murderer (he confessed), but there certainly is about the extent to which he was responsible for his actions. The question of the jury's impartiality is raised by the fact that the victims were gay: would this rural, conservative, religiously inclined venue deal the death penalty to a local mountain man for his violence against two out-of-state lesbians? Truth and justice fade behind a fog of legal maneuverings that Pohlman, remarkably, illuminates without putting the reader to sleep: lawyers' battles regarding evidence disclosure and jury selection, a question of the defendant's diminished capacity and a ""Twinkie""-style defense, and questions about the degree of nuance in categories of criminal guilt. Pohlman also does a good job portraying the human weaknesses of the lead players, from the district attorney, for whom ""avoiding the anxiety of 'Godlike' decisions was more important . . . than avoiding the infliction of a punishment that in his own opinion had no legitimate purpose,"" to the savvy judge who nonetheless displays outrageously misplaced confidence in the defendant's understanding of what is happening to him at his plea-bargain session. Pohlman ably spotlights tough legal nuts (does the adversarial judicial system facilitate or hinder the truth; are the conflicts raised by this legal process inimical to fairness and propriety) that, while hardly new, are so fundamental to our notion of justice, they strike reflective chords every time they are raised.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999


Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

Close Quickview