The notorious detective from the OJ trial examines some capital cases in Oklahoma and concludes that the death penalty should be abolished.
Cop-turned-radio-commentator-and-writer Fuhrman (Murder in Spokane, 2001) flashes some courage as he reverses his long-held position on the death penalty because of what he calls “shoddy, half-baked cases.” He begins with a quick tour of death row—and the death chamber—in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. It’s this portion that exhibits Fuhrman at his best: the sentences are crisp, the images clear, the dialogue purposeful. (We learn that the fabled “last meal”—at least in the Sooner State—has a price cap of $15.) The author then explores some cases in Oklahoma County featuring prosecutor Bob Macy, who sent 73 people to death row, and forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist, whose expert testimony for the prosecution dazzled jurors even as it alarmed her colleagues. Macy emerges as an avenging angel in a cowboy hat (his favorite film is Lonesome Dove) who asked for the ultimate penalty whenever he possibly could; Gilchrist is depicted as an unethical incompetent willing to go to any extent to accommodate the cops by nailing defendants with misleading testimony about fiber, hair, blood, and semen. Numerous investigations of her behavior by the FBI and 60 Minutes, among others, led to the release of some men and the downfall of both Gilchrist and Macy. Fuhrman’s support for some of these defendants is grudging, for he recognizes that they were career criminals who happened to be innocent only in these particular cases. “In the end,” he writes of one man, “Johnson was not given the due process that even a scumbag like him deserves.” Fuhrman is most affected by death-penalty-opponent Jim Fowler, whose son was executed and whose mother was raped and murdered in an unrelated case.
Fuhrman’s prose may plod, but it nonetheless convinces that a criminal justice system can be criminal and lack justice.