IN SPITE OF INNOCENCE: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases by Michael L.; Hugo Adam Bedau & Constance E. Putnam Radelet

IN SPITE OF INNOCENCE: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases

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Real-life stories of 416 innocent men convicted for crimes punishable by death. This frightening study began in 1964 as a 19-page essay by Bedau (Philosophy/Tuffs) that described 74 cases of miscarriage of justice in capital crimea. In 1987, Bedau and Radelet (Sociology/Univ. of Fla.) published a watershed study of 350 such cases--a report expanded and popularized, with the help of free-lancer Putnam, into the current work. The authors include only instances in which evidence of wrongful conviction appears incontrovertible. In nearly two dozen cases, the allegedly innocent man was executed--but it should be noted that included on this short list are Sacco and Vanzetti as well as Bruno Hauptmann, convicted kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. These cases are by no means open-and-shut, and their inclusion gives pause in accepting the authors' conclusions, and yet this catalogue of judicial malfeasance delivers a powerful message: That whether it be through confused eyewitness testimony, perjury, coerced confessions, or police conspiracy, the wrong person can easily wind up doing life or swinging from the gallows. Thirteen cases receive close-up attention. One or two are familiar, such as that of Randall Dale Adams, the subject of Errol Morris's film The Thin Blue Line. All horrify: James Foster, misidentified by a murdered man's wife; Clarence Brandly, a black man accused of killing a white cheerleader, who was told by a cop that ""since you're the nigger, you're elected""--and on and on. The authors contend that this litany of injustice leads to the inescapable conclusion that the death penalty must be abolished. Their secondary arguments against capital punishment, consigned to ten pages at the end, are too sketchy to carry much weight, but their central point--that execution of the innocent is not only a fact, but lies at the root of our culture--is hard to deny. Consider, they say, the fates of Socrates and Jesus. Bone-chilling.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Northeastern Univ. Press