BRIEF AGAINST DEATH by Edgar Smith

BRIEF AGAINST DEATH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Edgar Smith, tried and convicted of murder, has been in a New Jersey prison for eleven years where, after many stays and appeals, his case will come up again for his fifteenth appeal this fall-synchronized with this ""brief"" he has written. ""It is perhaps too much to expect that this book can or will explain my innocence""--and even where it fails, it has many startling as well as speculative facets. The man himself to begin with: a drifter, who during this time educated himself, is a most persuasive and often very sharply descriptive writer (on Hommell, the man he thinks is guilty, his eyes ""moved in their sockets like a pair of matched ball bearing""). As for the case, it involves the molested and mutilated Victoria Zielinski, fifteen, found murdered in a sandpit. Knowns: he had given her a ride there (to meet Hommell); dubiosa; his pants (one with bloodstains, one with vomit, and shoes, also bloodstained); the general amnestic obscurity of ""I don't remembers"" which attend his first statement. Here, along with the full trial, his own defense (""an unmitigated disaster""--he was unprepared), the less than two hour verdict reached by the jury on a priori reasoning. Smith also reconstructs what he thinks happened as well as argues his own innocence. There is an introduction by William Buckley who became during his prison stay and via correspondence his ""closest friend""; there are (publisher) claims: the ""shocking revelation of how the machinery of criminal justice can mangle the rights of an ordinary citizen"" which to the untrained car seems pretentious although one can question that Smith did ""willfully, feloniously and with malice aforethought"" commit the crime. . . . The book is stringently involving to read and it lengthens the shadows in the death house. Perhaps it may be more instrumental than Chessman's, an inevitable comparison.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1968
Publisher: Knopf