For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 21

Book Review: A Descending Spiral:
Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays
Barnaby Wittels
I
n A Descending Spiral, long-term criminal defense
attorney and death penalty expert, Marc Bookman,
skillfully " parses " the lexicon of death and exposes the
myth of equal justice under the law.1
As Mr. Bookman's
superb essays demonstrate again and again, in a country
that murders its own citizens, the concept of " equal
justice, " enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, is far
more aspirational than real.
Mr. Bookman spent more than seventeen years
representing clients in homicide cases as an Assistant
Defender in the homicide unit of the Defender
Association of Philadelphia and each of the twelve
essays in his book comes directly from the heart of that
experience. Eleven of the twelve essays are true and
compelling indictments of our criminal justice system.
In the twelfth, entitled " Smoke, " a comment on the
evanescent nature of justice, Mr. Bookman reminds us of
why we do what we do.
The defendants who Mr. Bookman and his colleagues
represented had excellent lawyers. But, as several of the
essays make clear, that is the exception, not the rule.
Having competent counsel in a death penalty case is too
often a rarity, especially where the defendant has the
misfortune to be indigent and black or brown. In one
essay, entitled " The Lawyer Who Drank His Client to
Death, " Bookman describes how an alcoholic lawyer in
Georgia incompetently represented his client in a death
penalty case. The lawyer's incompetence was never
credited through multiple appeals. Rather, one court
after another found that the allegations of alcoholism
and ineffective assistance of counsel even if true were
not sufficient to set aside the verdict because they were
" harmless. "
As A Descending Spiral reveals, incompetent counsel
is but one part of an unholy quartet of bad judges,
dishonest prosecutors and cops who appeared to believe
Vol. 6, Issue 2 l For The Defense 21

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

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