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DEAD END by Gary E. Goldhammer


by Gary E. Goldhammer

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1994
ISBN: 1-879418-15-0

A self-involved, amateurish tale of a trip into the world of capital punishment. Freelance journalist Goldhammer made a cross-country journey in 1990 to explore the world of state-sanctioned killing. ``If I wanted to read an in-depth report on capital punishment, I would have to write it myself,'' he declares. However, his findings don't go much beyond extant journalism, and his book is far overshadowed by Helen Prejean's Dead Men Walking (1993). Goldhammer writes in a modified diary form, with long quotes from his subjects amplified by awkward faux drama: ``In my mind, trepidation hung in the cool fall air....'' He opposes the death penalty, citing the usual, solid reasons: It's no deterrent; it's mainly applied to the poor and black; the endless appeals that follow a sentence of death are more costly than life imprisonment. His interviews contain nuggets of interest: Philosopher Hugo Bedau, author of The Death Penalty in America, declares support for the death penalty ``a mile wide and an inch deep''; much publicized Virginia inmate Joe Giarratano's legal expertise leads a guard at Giarratano's prison to say, ``Everybody here respects him.'' Goldhammer goes to a Florida prison for the execution of Ray Clark, and interviews death penalty abolitionists and supporters; he declares resonantly that the white handkerchief that indicates the execution is complete is ``a sign of surrender,'' of society giving up. In Alabama, the warden in charge of death row refuses to voice his personal views on the death penalty; he says offering education and certain privileges makes his inmates ``the best group of guys I've ever had.'' In closing, the author gives an account of a case he followed, involving a severely retarded young man who brutally killed an eight-year-old boy and was sentenced to death. Falls short both as narrative and as argument. (10 photos, not seen)