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Despite the notoriety of the author (Mr. Smith has spent the last eleven years in the Death House of New Jersey State Prison; has been a favorite ""cause"" of William Buckley; and has set forth his agonized experiences in Brief Against Death, 1968) this spare, dispassionate view of courtroom procedures and justice can stand on its own as the work of a controlled and able writer. The principals in the small New Jersey town murder case were all young, involved in some aspects of civil or moral malfeasance, and generally rootless. The seventeen-year-old victim, Suzan Jeffers, beaten to death and her body removed to a remote farmhouse, was not only promiscuous but in full knowledge of the car heisting and pornography involvements of the two suspects, Jerry Bender and Ron Kramer. The courtroom battle, handled authoritatively by a corpus of competent lawyers, boils down to a credibility contest between Jerry's and Ron's version of the murder--each accuses the other. When it becomes known in the cloakroom that the Mafia and state politics are involved, the case wheezes to an inconclusive halt as the prosecution backs down. A cynical last note from Jerry sours the virtues of ""reasonable doubt"": ""Catch a killer by the toe/ If you catch him let him go. . . . "" A balanced, painstaking overview of the law as it responds to both the greatnesses and weaknesses of the people it serves.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1970
Publisher: Coward-McCann