DEAD WRONG by Michael A. Mello


A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment
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 In a season busy with books about the death penalty, here is an idiosyncratic, almost experimental, but authoritative personal critique of the nation's system of capital punishment. Mello is a former postconviction counsel, representing Florida death-row inmates in challenges to their sentence-- challenges often popularly thought of as ``milking the system,'' as one judge said with reference to Ted Bundy. But Mello relentlessly demonstrates that such procedures generally unfold at a breakneck pace that understaffed counsel can barely keep up with, that delays are often the state's fault--and that the Bundy case's notoriety actually made it a de facto ``exception'' to the due-process rule. It is astonishing how many cases Mello can cite, from his own experience, of prisoners either executed or nearly executed in flagrantly unconstitutional circumstances due to indifference, incompetence, or outright hostility from the courts, considering that he has performed a mere 14 years of ``deathwork,'' as he calls it. However, Mello's often engagingly haphazard way of storytelling virtually ruins the two climactic accounts that introduce his decision to ``conscientiously abstain'' from continued work within the system, undermining the hyperbole with which, for example, he excoriates the decisions, regarding his clients, of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, whom he calls ``either stupid or malicious.'' Mello's own aversion to self-censorship also results in repetition; at least one episode that reads rather like score-settling; and an ``apologia'' for quitting deathwork startlingly announces that his reasons for doing so ``are beyond the scope of this book.'' For all that, death-penalty supporters--and opponents, for that matter--who do not read this unique insider's account of capital punishment as a capricious and nearly broken-down system will lay themselves open to the charge that they don't know what they're talking about.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-299-15340-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997