Sober thoughts on capital punishment.
Over his years as a prosecutor, bestselling novelist Turow (Reversible Errors, 2002, etc.) evolved from holding Aquarian views on human nature to holding Hobbesian ones. Still, when it came to the death penalty, he says in this brief collection of ruminations, he knew the cautionary lessons and considered himself an agnostic on the issue. But in 2000, when the governor of Illinois appointed a commission, including Turow, to investigate the state’s capital-justice system, it was a moment of truth: “No more dodging my conscience, no more mouthing liberal pieties while secretly hoping some conservative showed up to talk hard-nosed realities.” Turow now had to ask himself about the goals of such punishment, whether some individuals were perdurably evil and what kind of power the government should be allowed to wield. On a practical level, he found much wanting in the Illinois system: that confessions no longer had the weight they once did (especially when beaten out of suspects); that “emotional momentum” to solve particularly repellent crimes can result in fastening onto the first suspect and chewing away long after the bone has gone cold; that the creeping influence of victims’ rights obscured the character of the defendant and the crime involved; and that deterrence simply was not a compelling rationale. Philosophically, Turow hesitates over the question of moral proportions, the idea that the punishment of a crime be an unequivocal statement of moral order. As for Illinois, he found its capital-justice system sprawling and arbitrary, without logic as to the selections for execution, and lacking a guiding hand of reason. The commission’s recommendations—specific ones, keeping the option of death to a minimum—were ignored by the get-tough political agenda of the new governor.
Well-presented, if dry and hardly original. In a handful of sorry examples from Illinois, Turow's storytelling talents shine.