We’ve recommended John Grisham’s work before, as a whole, in no small part due to his focus upon aspects of criminal defense in death penalty matters. See, “Book Recommendation: John Grisham’s Novels on Death Row and Capital Punishment.”

book cover of A Time for Mercy linked to AmazonThis fall, Mr. Grisham has released another novel, the third in his Jake Brigance series (as played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie version of Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill).

It’s entitled A Time for Mercy, and it’s a recommended read.

The story deals with death penalty defense – and spans a time frame from the initial killing through arrest and trial to jury verdict.

A theme running through the book is something dovetailing one of Terry’s passions:  spotlighting the realities of financial support in indigent capital case defense.  In A Time for Mercy, the defense lawyer is not only facing of criticism  and ridicule because of the case, but he’s got financial woes as an added burden while he has the fiscall responsibilities of defending a death penalty case where the client is indigent.

It’s another good read from John Grisham, and a welcomed respite in these turbulent times.

Click on the image to visit Amazon.com and read more details on the book and its 12,688 ratings (4.8 stars).

Surely prosecutors who seek the death penalty as part of their job must be proponents of capital punishment, right?  Well, maybe not.  Out of Arizona comes a memoir from an experienced prosecutor named Rick Unklesbay.

For over 35 years,  Mr. Unklesbay has sat at the state’s table in the courtroom, prosecuting serious felonies and homicide cases.  He has successfully sent 16 defendants to Arizona’s Death Row.  Today, he is in charge of a state task force investigating possible wrongful convictions.

And Rick Unklesbay argues against capital punishment and the government seeking the death penalty.

His book, Arbitrary Death: A Prosecutor’s Perspective on the Death Penalty, was published in May 2019 by Wheatmark, Inc., and is available in both paperback and e-book at Amazon.com.

For more on this new book, read the interview and coverage provided by KVOA-TV in “Prosecutor writes book on death penalty,” written by Lupita Morrillo and published on June 25, 2019.

Prosecutor’s Arguments Against the Death Penalty

From the publisher:  “Arbitrary Death: A Prosecutor’s Perspective on the Death Penalty is an insider’s view from someone who has spent decades prosecuting murder cases and who now argues that the death penalty doesn’t work and our system is fundamentally flawed.

“With a rational, balanced approach, Unklesbay depicts cases that represent how different parts of the criminal justice system are responsible for the arbitrary nature of the death penalty and work against the fair application of the law. The prosecution, trial courts, juries, and appellate courts all play a part in what ultimately is a roll of the dice as to whether a defendant lives or dies.

“Arbitrary Death is for anyone who wonders why and when its government seeks to legally take the life of one of its citizens. It will have you questioning whether you can support a system that applies death as an arbitrary punishment — and often decades after the sentence was given.”

Every so often, we recommend a good read – usually a single book or novel that deals with capital punishment in some way.

Today, we’re recommending a series of books by a single author: John Grisham.

John Grisham on the Death Penalty

For his personal take on the death penalty, check out Mr. Grisham’s op-ed piece last year in USA Today: “Stop the execution madness in Arkansas: John Grisham,” or watch his interview by Bill Moyers online here: John Grisham on Wrongful Death Penalty Convictions from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Three John Grisham Books Dealing with the Death Penalty

His books dealing with the death penalty include:

1.  The Chamber

From his website comes the following description of The Chamber:

In the corridors of Chicago’s top law firm:Twenty -six-year-old Adam Hall stands on the brink of a brilliant legal career. Now he is risking it all for a death-row killer and an impossible case.Maximum Security Unit, Mississippi State Prison:Sam Cayhall is a former Klansman and unrepentant racist now facing the death penalty for a fatal bombing in 1967….

2.  The Confession

From his website comes the following description of The Confession:

An innocent man is about to be executed. Only a guilty man can save him. For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake….




3.  The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (non-fiction)

From his website comes the following description of The Innocent Man:

In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits—drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.

In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.

If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.



Death Row: The Final Minutes by Michelle Lyons  is a book that you may want to read, no matter your position on the death penalty.  It’s a well-written memoir (consistent 4.5 and 5 star reviews, if that’s important to you).

Lyons Witnessed Hundreds of Executions

Michelle Lyons was an eyewitness to almost 300 executions by lethal injection by the State of Texas.  Part of the time, she did so as a reporter.  For the rest of the deaths, she was there as the media representative (spokesperson) for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

She watched the inmates die, time and time again.  She also grew to know many of these men and women, as well as the staff who had the horrific responsibility of carrying out the execution.  (As did her friend and predecessor Larry Fitzgerald, who figures prominently in the book).

For those interested in capital punishment, reading what Michelle Lyons has to tell us about her knowledge and perspective regarding the death penalty, the lethal injection method of execution, and how it impacts so many people is important.  


Book Description From Amazon

First as a reporter and then as a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Michelle was a frequent visitor to Huntsville’s Walls Unit, where she recorded and relayed the final moments of death row inmates’ lives before they were put to death by the state.
Michelle was in the death chamber as some of the United States’ most notorious criminals, including serial killers, child murderers and rapists, spoke their last words on earth, while a cocktail of lethal drugs surged through their veins.
Michelle supported the death penalty, before misgivings began to set in as the executions mounted. During her time in the prison system, and together with her dear friend and colleague, Larry Fitzgerald, she came to know and like some of the condemned men and women she saw die. She began to query the arbitrary nature of the death penalty and ask the question: do executions make victims of all of us?
An incredibly powerful and unique look at the complex story of capital punishment, as told by those whose lives have been shaped by it, Death Row: The Final Minutes is an important take on crime and punishment at a fascinating point in America’s political history.


Investigative journalist M William Phelps just released a book about the Josh Fulgham case — a capital case that Terence Lenamon tried as Fulgham’s criminal defense lawyer in the death penalty case. (We’ve been posting about Terry’s defense in the Fulgham case here.)

Result?  Another victory for Terry over the state’s seeking of capital punishment.  There was no death penalty; Fulgham got a life sentence (two consecutive terms). 

What led the jury to this decision?  Read Terry’s Opening Statement in the Josh Fulgham case here.

New True Crime Book on Florida Capital Murder Case: Check it Out


Here’s more about Phelp’s book, “To Love and To Kill:

The missing-persons case of Heather Strong, a young, beautiful suburban mother, baffled Florida detectives. When the file was handed to a veteran investigator, he knew Heather was dead. The challenge was to find her body—and whoever killed her. Soon, a sordid triangle of sex, jealousy, and rage came to light. The killers were cunning, manipulative, depraved—and they were as close to Heather as a man and a woman could possibly be. Vividly recreated by master investigative journalist M. William Phelps, this riveting account of seething small-town passions is a classic tale of crime and justice.

You should take a look at it.  (Terry’s mentioned in there, it’s a good read.)

More about the author, M. William Phelps, from his author website:

Crime, murder and serial killer expert, creator/producer/writer and former host of the Investigation Discovery series DARK MINDS, acclaimed, award-winning investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the New York Times best-selling author of 30 books and winner of the 2013 Excellence in (Investigative) Journalism Award and the 2008 New England Book Festival Award. A highly sought-after pundit, Phelps has made over 100 media-related television appearances: Early Show, The Today Show, The View, Fox & Friends, truTV, Discovery Channel, Fox News Channel, Good Morning America, TLC, BIO, History, Oxygen, OWN, on top of over 100 additional media appearances: USA Radio Network, Catholic Radio, Mancow, Wall Street Journal Radio, Zac Daniel, Ave Maria Radio, Catholic Channel, EWTN Radio, ABC News Radio, and many more.

Phelps is one of the regular and recurring experts frequently appearing on two long-running series, Deadly Women and Snapped. Radio America calls Phelps “the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer,” and TV Rage says, “M. William Phelps dares to tread where few others will: into the mind of a killer.” A respected journalist, beyond his book writing Phelps has written for numerous publications—including the Providence Journal, Connecticut Magazine and Hartford Courant—and consulted on the first season of the hit Showtime cable television series Dexter.

Phelps grew up in East Hartford, CT, moved to Vernon, CT, at age 12, where he lived for 25 years. He now lives in a reclusive Connecticut farming community north of Hartford.

Beyond crime, Phelps has also written several history books, including the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling NATHAN HALE: The Life and Death of America’s First Spy, THE DEVIL’S ROOMING HOUSE, THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, MURDER, NEW ENGLAND, and more.

1.  Inequality in Results: Unequal Outcomes in Capital Cases

Recently the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board changed the paper’s official stance on the death penalty in Florida in an editorial entitled “It’s time for Florida to get rid of the death penalty,” and published on November 22, 2019.

Part of their argument includes a comparison of Terry Lenamon’s defense in the recent Markeith Loyd trial, where the defendant was spared death, with the jury recommendation of death for Everett Miller, convicted of killing two Kissimmee police officers.  The two jury verdicts came down within weeks of each other.

From the Sentinel editorial:

No law should stand if it consistently produces such unequal outcomes, though there are many other reasons Florida should abolish the death penalty.  It does not deter murder. It disproportionately affects the poor and minorities. It drains the state budget.  And its haphazard application has resulted in 29 condemned inmates having their death sentences overturned.

Point to Ponder:  Not every death penalty defendant is represented by defense counsel of Terry Lenamon’s caliber.  What happens when capital punishment does not appear to be evenly applied?  How can justice be served?

For more, read:


2.  Risk of Executing the Innocent

Yesterday, the Miami Herald published an opinion piece written by Harry L. Shorstein, former state attorney for the Fourth Judicial District (5 terms) and now in private practice.  Entitled “Don’t let Florida execute James Dailey, Gov. DeSantis. He might be innocent,” Mr. Shorstein argues against the execution of Florida Death Row inmate James Dailey, asking that Governor DeSantis grant clemency.

Shorstein argues against the death penalty in this particular case because Dailey’s conviction was based in large part upon the suspect testimony of a “jailhouse snitch” with a past history as a con artist as well as being a registered child-sex offender.

From the Shorstein piece:

Floridians have differing views about the death penalty. But everyone agrees that if we are to have the death penalty, it must be fair and reliable. The process in Dailey’s case was neither.  I believe that police and prosecutors do their very best and, in the majority of cases, they get it right. But human beings are imperfect. Sometimes the system fails. Since 1973, 166 people in the United States have been exonerated and freed from Death Row. Florida has had the most death-penalty exonerations of any state in the nation, with 29.  The risk of executing an innocent person is real. There is powerful evidence that Dailey is innocent. There was never any eyewitness or forensic evidence implicating him.

Point to Ponder:  Evidentiary hearings at the trial level can make all the difference in a capital case.  Innocent defendants without aggressive advocates can end up facing convictions and death sentences that may fail no matter how zealous the advocacy on appeal.  In most death penalty cases, defense lawyers are being paid by the state because the defendants are indigent.  How do budget constraints impact the death penalty case?

For more, read:

State Execution Methods and Federal Executions

Meanwhile, up in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court of the United States has denied the federal government’s request for four federal executions to proceed.  The SCOTUS Order in Barr v Roane is short, and unsigned, but it is accompanied by a Statement from Justice Alito, who is joined by Justices Grosuch and Kavanaugh.

SCOTUS returns the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the appeals court is encouraged to rule quickly.  SCOTUS refused the Justice Department’s request to overturn a lower court decision blocking these four executions and makes it clear that the federal government’s execution method must be resolved within the courts before federal executions can proceed.

Justices Alito, Grosuch, and Kavanaugh explain:

[T]he District Court enjoined the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from carrying out these executions based on its interpretation of a statute, 18 U. S. C. §3596(a), directing that federal executions be implemented “in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed.” This means, the Government contends, that the mode of execution (i.e., by lethal injection, electrocution, etc.) must be the same as that called for under the law of the State in question, but the District Court held instead that a federal execution must follow all the procedures that would be used in an execution in that State— down to the selection of the way a catheter is inserted.

Point to Ponder:  Another real concern in death penalty cases is how executions are carried out.  State laws vary on the execution methods, from electric chairs to gas chambers to lethal injection.  While lethal injection has predominated executions in recent memory, more and more this method of killing is being questioned and challenged.  Of note: the lack of certain drugs forcing states to change their “cocktail” protocols.  How can an execution ethically and humanely take place?  Are the evolving lethal injection protocols cruel and unusual punishment?

For more, read:


A few weeks ago, we posted about the Ohio death row case of Vietnam Vet Gary Cone, where the United States Supreme Court returned the case back to the lower courts for a fresh consideration of his sentencing after finding that 23 years ago, Cone’s due process rights had been violated because the prosecution withheld key evidence that was favorable to the defense – exculpatory evidence.

Sad to say, this happens all too often in this country.

Just this past week, in the Washington Post, Maryland attorneys Albert D. Brault and Timothy F. Maloney wrote an excellent article entitled, “A Standard for Fair Trials,” where they outlined several examples of prosecutorial misconduct in the form of withholding exculpatory evidence. Continue Reading The Problem of Prosecutors Withholding Exculpatory Evidence