DOING LIFE: The Extraordinary Saga of America's Greatest Jailhouse Lawyer by Stephen Bello

DOING LIFE: The Extraordinary Saga of America's Greatest Jailhouse Lawyer

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A colorful but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to turn Jerry Rosenberg--a Brooklyn hoodlum doing life for felony murder of two policemen--into a mythic figure. ""A man who had literally fought his way back to life by dint of his own wit and fortitude and belief in himself,"" says Bello, who comes across as Rosenberg's number two fan, fight after his long-suffering mom--and seems to buy Rosenberg's argument that, notwithstanding some unshakable eyewitness identifications, he was railroaded to the death house amid ""lies and distortions"" fed to the press. (In retrospect, the conduct of the police and prosecutors docs invite attack--the arresting detective, for example, displayed Rosenberg to the press with the words: ""Here's the cop-killing bastard. He's gonna burn!"") Guilty or not, Rosenberg went to death row, where he applied himself to the study of law. ""On one level I guess it was a way of convincing myself they could never hurt me. . . . On another level, of course, it was just something to keep your sanity."" His first big victory came in his own case, when he sprung himself and his co-defendant from a death sentence by finding a loophole in the 1965 statute that repealed New York's death-penalty law (the 1965 act left the death penalty in force only for ""premeditated"" cop-killings--which, Rosenberg argued successfully, his wasn't). Smart, tough, absolutely defiant, Rosenberg began to make a name for himself as a guy who knew the law and could get people out of prison. He also wasn't afraid to sue anyone--wardens, police, public officials, even Maurice Nadjari--and at the Attica riot he turned up among the inmate leaders. But Belle's seeming acceptance of Rosenberg's one-sided account of the Attica incident (virtually no references to inmate violence) calls his objectivity about Rosenberg into serious question. Also, Belle's perception of Rosenberg's talent as a lawyer would inspire more confidence if Belle himself knew more law (neither New York's felony-murder statute nor 42 U.S.C. section 1983 deserves to be labeled ""obscure""). The text ends with Rosenberg awaiting a 1982 parole hearing--no dice, according to a more recent newspaper article (a result that just might scotch a pending film deal). Insubstantial.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's