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Murder at the Supreme Court: Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases

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True-life reporting on vicious criminals and the haphazard system that punishes them In 1969, the Supreme Court justices cast votes in secret that could have signaled the end of the death penalty. Later, the justices’ resolve began to unravel. Why? What were the consequences for the rule of law and for the life at stake in the case? These are some of the fascinating que True-life reporting on vicious criminals and the haphazard system that punishes them In 1969, the Supreme Court justices cast votes in secret that could have signaled the end of the death penalty. Later, the justices’ resolve began to unravel. Why? What were the consequences for the rule of law and for the life at stake in the case? These are some of the fascinating questions answered in Murder at the Supreme Court. Veteran journalists Martin Clancy and Tim O’Brien not only pull back the curtain of secrecy that surrounds Supreme Court deliberations but also reveal the crucial links between landmark capital-punishment cases and the lethal crimes at their root. The authors take readers to crime scenes, holding cells, jury rooms, autopsy suites, and execution chambers to provide true-life reporting on vicious criminals and the haphazard judicial system that punishes them. The cases reported are truly "the cases that made the law." They have defined the parameters that judges must follow for a death sentence to stand up on appeal. Beyond the obvious questions regarding the dubious deterrent effect of capital punishment or whether retribution is sufficient justification for the death penalty (regardless of the heinous nature of the crimes committed), the cases and crimes examined in this book raise other confounding issues: Is lethal injection really more humane than other methods of execution? Should a mentally ill killer be forcibly medicated to make him "well enough" to be executed? How does the race of the perpetrator or the victim influence sentencing? Is heinous rape a capital crime? How young is too young to be executed? This in-depth yet highly accessible book provides compelling human stories that illuminate the thorny legal issues behind the most noteworthy capital cases.  


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True-life reporting on vicious criminals and the haphazard system that punishes them In 1969, the Supreme Court justices cast votes in secret that could have signaled the end of the death penalty. Later, the justices’ resolve began to unravel. Why? What were the consequences for the rule of law and for the life at stake in the case? These are some of the fascinating que True-life reporting on vicious criminals and the haphazard system that punishes them In 1969, the Supreme Court justices cast votes in secret that could have signaled the end of the death penalty. Later, the justices’ resolve began to unravel. Why? What were the consequences for the rule of law and for the life at stake in the case? These are some of the fascinating questions answered in Murder at the Supreme Court. Veteran journalists Martin Clancy and Tim O’Brien not only pull back the curtain of secrecy that surrounds Supreme Court deliberations but also reveal the crucial links between landmark capital-punishment cases and the lethal crimes at their root. The authors take readers to crime scenes, holding cells, jury rooms, autopsy suites, and execution chambers to provide true-life reporting on vicious criminals and the haphazard judicial system that punishes them. The cases reported are truly "the cases that made the law." They have defined the parameters that judges must follow for a death sentence to stand up on appeal. Beyond the obvious questions regarding the dubious deterrent effect of capital punishment or whether retribution is sufficient justification for the death penalty (regardless of the heinous nature of the crimes committed), the cases and crimes examined in this book raise other confounding issues: Is lethal injection really more humane than other methods of execution? Should a mentally ill killer be forcibly medicated to make him "well enough" to be executed? How does the race of the perpetrator or the victim influence sentencing? Is heinous rape a capital crime? How young is too young to be executed? This in-depth yet highly accessible book provides compelling human stories that illuminate the thorny legal issues behind the most noteworthy capital cases.  

30 review for Murder at the Supreme Court: Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fishface

    A surprisingly gripping page-turner considering that this is all about SCOTUS's legal hairsplitting. Full of unexpectedly fascinating case law and some great knock-down-drag-outs between the judges -- all submitted in writing. Will give you a new appreciation for the tasks faced by our Supreme Court and the tough, tough questions they have to work on.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    The book is a review of how the death penalty has been shaped by various judgments by the Supreme Court over the past 40 + years. The Court was awfully close in 1969 to declaring capital punishment unconstitutional, but decided instead to try setting boundaries for how it could/should be utilized. The authors eventually conclude that while the Court was trying to set minimum standards for sentencing someone to death (minimum in terms of the type of crime committed, the degree to which one was en The book is a review of how the death penalty has been shaped by various judgments by the Supreme Court over the past 40 + years. The Court was awfully close in 1969 to declaring capital punishment unconstitutional, but decided instead to try setting boundaries for how it could/should be utilized. The authors eventually conclude that while the Court was trying to set minimum standards for sentencing someone to death (minimum in terms of the type of crime committed, the degree to which one was engaged in a capital crime, age of the accused, mental capacity, type of execution, etc.) they still haven't managed to create a system whereby the death penalty is utilized in a standard, uniform, accurate way. Going in to the book I would say I was an opponent of the death penalty. I think in the majority of the cases there is far too many variables present to make the right call when dealing with someone's life. More generically, I can't condone a practice that can't give me absolute certainty that it won't kill an innocent man. What shocked me while reading the book was my visceral reaction to the crime tales. The authors detail each crime that eventually leads to a Supreme Court ruling -- often in intense detail. After reading the crime details I found myself rooting for a sentence of death for the convicted. The very real emotional reaction was one of vengeance and retribution. These people committed heinous crimes and my instinctive reaction was to wipe them from the face of the earth. It was a little discouraging given my opinion heading in to the book. I think this is where the majority of pro-capital punishment fervor comes from, this intrinsic desire for revenge. But, to borrow a phrase from the Court, evolving standards of decency of a maturing society lead us to think deeper about what justice is. Justice is not just the punishment, but all the steps that lead up to that conclusion, including arrest, police work, jury selection, performance of counsel, etc. It is in this light, looking at the big picture, that I can move past those initial feelings of retribution and come back to my original opinion. Not as an absolutionist with regard to capital punishment, there are surely crimes that are so terrible and so clear-cut that death is the only fair punishment, but as a realist with regard to our ability to judge each other. The conclusion of the book offered several quotes that accurately summarize my own feelings. "There will always be cases that cry out to me for ultimate punishment. That is not the true issue. The pivotal question instead is whether a system of justice can be constructed that reaches only the rare, right cases, without also occasionally condemning the innocent or the undeserving." Scott Turow, attorney. "Perhaps one day this Court will develop procedural rules or verbal formulas that actually will provide consistency, fairness, and reliability in a capital sentencing scheme. I am not optimistic that such a day will come. I am more optimistic, though, that this Court eventually will conclude that the effort to eliminate arbitrariness while preserving fairness in the infliction of death is so plainly doomed to failure that it --and the death penalty -- must be abandoned altogether." Justice Harry A Blackmun "There remains for consideration what might be termed the purely retributive justification for the death penalty -- that the death penalty is appropriate not because of its beneficial effect on society, but because the taking of the murderer's life is itself morally good. Some of the language of the opinion of my Brothers...appears positively to embrace this notion of retribution for its own sake as a justification for capital punishment...The mere fact that the community demands the murderer's life in return for the evil he has done cannot sustain the death penalty...To be sustained under the Eighth Amendment [which forbids the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment], the death penalty must "comport with the basic concept of human dignity at the core of the Amendment; the objective in imposing it must be consistent with our respect for the dignity of men." Under these standards, the taking of life because the wrongdoer 'deserves it' surely must fail, for such a punishment has as its very basis the total denial of the wrongdoer's dignity and worth." Justice Thurgood Marshall, Gregg v Georgia, dissenting.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    This book is a fairly complete look at all the modern death penalty decisions of the Supreme Court. The reader gets a good feel for the court at its various stages of considering the constitutionality of the death penalty and how it has changed since the Furman decision which put a stop to the death penalty in the 1970's. The author relies on conference notes from the justices involved to show how individual justices struggled with death penalty issues and how their views changed during their te This book is a fairly complete look at all the modern death penalty decisions of the Supreme Court. The reader gets a good feel for the court at its various stages of considering the constitutionality of the death penalty and how it has changed since the Furman decision which put a stop to the death penalty in the 1970's. The author relies on conference notes from the justices involved to show how individual justices struggled with death penalty issues and how their views changed during their tenure in the court. If you have any interest in the death penalty at all - this book is for you. It is written in a way that one does not have to be a legal practitioner to understand the cases and their importance to modern capital litigation. I knew most of these cases, but I learned a lot from reading this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lesa Parnham

    This book was interesting in a way that was different from the books I usually read, and yet an interesting look inside our country's criminal justice system, both when it is successful and when it goes horribly wrong. The case studies are interesting in a disturbing way. There is a person with a low IQ, an underage killer and more. People you may not think about in the justice system. It also shows an interesting perspective on judges from local all the way to the supreme court. I give this fou This book was interesting in a way that was different from the books I usually read, and yet an interesting look inside our country's criminal justice system, both when it is successful and when it goes horribly wrong. The case studies are interesting in a disturbing way. There is a person with a low IQ, an underage killer and more. People you may not think about in the justice system. It also shows an interesting perspective on judges from local all the way to the supreme court. I give this four stars because some of the chapters run on and give more legalese than the average person really needs.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This is a fascinating account of the history of the death penalty through a series of landmark Supreme Court cases. Although it seems to clearly be leaning hard toward the side of those who oppose the death penalty, it is still worth reading for anyone interested in the subject, whatever his or her personal opinion. Much of the book is provocative and leaves the reader shaken by the amazing way in which the death penalty is still used, particularly in the south. I wish everyone would read this b This is a fascinating account of the history of the death penalty through a series of landmark Supreme Court cases. Although it seems to clearly be leaning hard toward the side of those who oppose the death penalty, it is still worth reading for anyone interested in the subject, whatever his or her personal opinion. Much of the book is provocative and leaves the reader shaken by the amazing way in which the death penalty is still used, particularly in the south. I wish everyone would read this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily Mayer

    If you are a Supreme Court buff or just curious about how the death penalty evolved, you will enjoy this book! It blended the stories of behind the crime with the Court cases the crimes led to in a way that makes for a very interesting read. It manages to avoid the boring, over- technical trap many books about the Supreme Court often fall into, so someone with no legal knowledge can enjoy this book, as well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    A great tour of the Supreme Court decisions on various cases that have influenced the use of the death penalty. Well written not in legalize but in very readable way. In fact, it has an almost novel style of writing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    James Evans

    This is a must read if you are interested in how the US Supreme Court really works. The subject is the application of capital punishment, but it also provides an insight into how the justices work in secret to decide how the laws of our society will work.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Comer Duncan

    I chilling account of how the death penalty in the United States has repeatedly been propagated. I found their writing to be pretty incisive and came away with a deeper sense of opposition to the death penalty.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel DeLappe

    Very well written book. I would not agree with any of the conclusions, their theories while well put together were noting original. The point that is always missed in todays legal world is justice is not a game and should be stopped being treated as such. Very much worth the time to read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jakenv

    Excellent presentation by author of cases which have influenced Supreme Court. Those not familiar with cases selected by author will learn. Interesting book which readers will find easy to follow and understand.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Borrowed and returned from the library in order to finish. In retrospect I should have purchased the book. This is a must read if you are interested in the ways the court works and what goes on. Imperative, if you have ever though about pro death penalty, against, or just on the fence,

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Snyder

    If I can be a pretensious, over-educated, unemployed, asshole for a moment...Supreme Court Justice's make some of the most worsest arguments.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sara Parkison

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Janice

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jason Henrie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ann Lynard

  22. 5 out of 5

    Regina Cano-Gonzales

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dagmar

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adam Quach

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carissa

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kristine Victoria

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brianna Persons

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  29. 4 out of 5

    amanda

  30. 4 out of 5

    miteypen

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