You have to read this book. 

That’s all I really need to write here, but it’s impossible to stop typing about how David Dow’s memoir is so important for anyone connected with capital punishment to read — and why this is so.

First, he provides a clear and unique perspective.  David Dow is not only a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, he’s also the head of litigation at the Texas Defender Service.   Professor Dow has been in the trenches of death penalty defense for years, and knows of what he speaks. 

Second, he’s writing a memoir this time.  Professor Dow has been published before, but his previous works were more analytical in nature.  Works like Machinery of Death: The Reality of America’s Death Penalty Regime (Taylor & Francis 2002), and Executed on a Technicality (Beacon 2005).  This book gives an inside view of what it’s like to represent clients who are facing death by execution.  Intersecting in these pages are Dow’s dealings with his young son and how appellate demands (particularly in death penalty cases) collide with family time and parenting needs.  It’s something that all capital litigators can truly understand, and it’s rare that someone reveals the razor’s edge we sometimes walk.

Third, Professor Dow gives us reality that is perhaps easier revealed via this personal perspective.  In Anatomy of an Execution, David Dow doesn’t pull any punches.  He’s showing you the underbelly of capital punishment in this country today, from the standpoint of an expert defense counsel.  From the book, you find out things such as:

  1. There was a time that he was in favor of capital punishment.  He understands the arguments of death penalty proponents. 
  2. Sometimes, he’s hasn’t liked his client — and it’s brave of him to admit this.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped his calling to stand against a client’s execution. 
  3. Money — and budgeting — are just as much a concern of the defense as it is for the prosecution.  David Dow’s story, covering a select number of representations as they dovetailed with his personal life, actually brings home the financial realities of capital punishment defense in this country:  Administrative matters and an analysis of cost vs benefit do happen in death penalty cases, and hat’s off to Professor Dow for shedding some light on the elephant in the room. 

 For more, check out a post written by David Dow, discussing how he came to write this book, over at the Huffington Post.