ATTORNEY FOR THE DAMNED: A Lawyer's Life with the Criminally Insane by Denis Woychuk

ATTORNEY FOR THE DAMNED: A Lawyer's Life with the Criminally Insane

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Woychuk is an unusually candid New York City--based lawyer who specializes in work with the criminally insane. He is an advocate for patients' rights at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum security hospital for the dangerously mentally ill, men and women who often have a history of violence. Woychuk came to this unusually specialized practice as a result of a desire to use his skills in the courtroom and his dissatisfaction with endless clays of paper-chasing in a corporate law firm. Here he relates six cases from his extensive files (over 300 cases) to illustrate various aspects of how the law treats the mentally ill. The clients he represented in these cases range from an infamous murderer who allegedly cooked and ate the heart of his victim to a quiet, gentle Sudanese whose biggest problem was that the psychiatrist who examined him knew even less English than the patient did. Finally, the author offers a lengthy essay on how to change a system that clearly has serious flaws. Woychuk is admirably frank about his tactics, his profession, his shortcomings, and his doubts (""I live with the painful knowledge that I am somehow complicit in the horrible acts some of my clients commit after I . . . help them get released""). Along the way, he offers insights into the workings of a trial lawyer's mind (""Lawyers strive to make the facts fit their theory of the case, not the other way around"") that should have extra resonance for Court TV addicts. Perhaps the hook's greatest contribution is to show how little the criminally mentally ill resemble the monsters of serial-killer fiction and film; even the scariest of the clients Woychuk describes began his life as an abused child, the common denominator in almost all such cases. An intelligently written, often riveting collection of ""war stories.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1996
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Free Press