Defense attorney's death penalty book a compelling read for opponents and
I've never met David Dow, a University of Houston law professor who serves
as litigation director for the Texas Defender Service. But I've known him
as a voice on the phone for more than a decade, listening to him talk
passionately about the death penalty in Texas.
In February everyone will have a chance to know him through his intensely
personal memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution.
Dow has written books about capital punishment before but his previous
efforts were clinical. The Autobiography of an Execution, published by
Twelve Books to be in bookstores next month, is startlingly revealing,
offering insight how the legal system works, and into the personal toll it
takes to represent the worst of the worst.
For instance, Dow writes about missing Halloween with his young son one
year because an execution was delayed. How do you tell your son he missed
going to the haunted house in his Thomas the Tank costume because you were
trying to stop a lethal injection?
He writes about the fact that people assume he likes his clients, when the
truth is sometimes he can't stand them. He tells how when he leaves the
prison he "can hardly wait to get in the shower and wash the death and
deprivation off of me." He launders his clothes separately to keep his
professional and personal life separate.
The book is written in an odd stream of consciousness narrative that
works. "I understand death penalty supporters," he writes. "I used to be
one. I can relate to the retributive impulse. I know people I want to
kill. I've tried hard to save all my clients, but some executions don't
make me cry…I have friends who quit doing this work because they
couldn't keep the images from burrowing deep down into their consciousness
and stealing all their joy."
Perhaps the greatest surprise is Dow's deft touch with words, a touch
rarely found in legal briefs. Here's his description of a mentally ill
inmate snacking during visiting hours with his parents. "He was making
sandwiches by layering a tortilla chip, a piece of chocolate bar, a
Funion, another piece of chocolate, and another Dorito. Then he'd pop the
whole thing into his mouth. His head would rotate like a figure 8 while he
As Dow left, he encountered the inmate's father. "He took a hold of my
upper arm. I could smell peanut butter and jelly on his breath. He said,
We are not planning to watch it. We'll be at the prison, but we want to
wait outside in the camper. Do you think that's all right?" Dow advised
him not to watch.
Whether you oppose or support the death penalty, Autobiography of an
Execution is a compelling read. I look forward to its counterpart by a
(source: Diane Jennings, Dallas Morning News)