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Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her care Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her career, she has defended those accused of heinous acts and argued that, no matter their guilt or innocence, they deserved a chance at redemption. Now, for the first time, Lyon shares her story, from her early work as a Legal Aid attorney to her founding of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases. Full of courtroom drama, tragedy, and redemption, Angel of Death Row is a remarkable inside look at what drives Lyon to defend those who seem indefensible—and to win. There was Annette who was suspected of murdering her own daughter. There was Patrick, the convicted murderer who thirsted for knowledge and shared his love of books with Lyon when she visited him in jail. There was Lonnie, whose mental illness made him nearly impossible to save until the daughter who remembered his better self spoke on his behalf. There was Deirdre, who shared Lyon’s cautious optimism that her wrongful conviction would finally be overturned, allowing her to see her grandchildren born while she was in prison. And there was Madison Hobley, the man whose name made international headlines when he was wrongfully charged with the murder of his family and sentenced to death. These clients trusted Lyon with their stories—and their lives. Driven by an overwhelming sense of justice, fairness, and morality, she fought for them in the courtroom and in the raucous streets, staying by their sides as they struggled through real tragedy and triumphed in startling ways. Angel of Death Row is the compelling memoir of Lyon’s unusual journey and groundbreaking career.


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Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her care Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her career, she has defended those accused of heinous acts and argued that, no matter their guilt or innocence, they deserved a chance at redemption. Now, for the first time, Lyon shares her story, from her early work as a Legal Aid attorney to her founding of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases. Full of courtroom drama, tragedy, and redemption, Angel of Death Row is a remarkable inside look at what drives Lyon to defend those who seem indefensible—and to win. There was Annette who was suspected of murdering her own daughter. There was Patrick, the convicted murderer who thirsted for knowledge and shared his love of books with Lyon when she visited him in jail. There was Lonnie, whose mental illness made him nearly impossible to save until the daughter who remembered his better self spoke on his behalf. There was Deirdre, who shared Lyon’s cautious optimism that her wrongful conviction would finally be overturned, allowing her to see her grandchildren born while she was in prison. And there was Madison Hobley, the man whose name made international headlines when he was wrongfully charged with the murder of his family and sentenced to death. These clients trusted Lyon with their stories—and their lives. Driven by an overwhelming sense of justice, fairness, and morality, she fought for them in the courtroom and in the raucous streets, staying by their sides as they struggled through real tragedy and triumphed in startling ways. Angel of Death Row is the compelling memoir of Lyon’s unusual journey and groundbreaking career.

30 review for Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer

  1. 4 out of 5

    Clif

    Two words come to mind with this book, ambition and justice. I think we can all agree that ambition is a good thing, responsible for pushing the individual to achieve. Yet it can be good for oneself and bad for others. If I say I want to be the richest person in the world, without qualification, then the means I use to try to achieve my goal can destroy lives. For ambition to be ethical, it must take others into consideration. The ideal individual ambition, for society, is one that depends upon pr Two words come to mind with this book, ambition and justice. I think we can all agree that ambition is a good thing, responsible for pushing the individual to achieve. Yet it can be good for oneself and bad for others. If I say I want to be the richest person in the world, without qualification, then the means I use to try to achieve my goal can destroy lives. For ambition to be ethical, it must take others into consideration. The ideal individual ambition, for society, is one that depends upon providing a benefit to others. For example, Lincoln's ambition was to be respected by others. This ambition could not be achieved if he showed disregard or contempt; it demanded his attention to what others valued. We know him as a great man, but more important is his ambition was realized in his lifetime, and it kept him (and the country) going through dark times. What of justice? We all feel a need to see justice done. This drives the plots of so many books, movies and plays. It feels good to see a wrong righted, in many cases a wrong driven by inconsiderate ambition. But what of institutionalized justice; the courts? There is a practical need for it to exist to handle the volume of wrongs that are done and the protection of the public by the imprisonment of those proven dangerous. How easy, though, to believe that a court of law is always a court of justice. The professional life of Andrea Lyon brings together ambition and justice in a perfect match. Her burning desire to be an eminent practitioner of the law combines with a deep sense of the value of each human life to create an angel by comparison to the norm. It can be difficult for people to deal with the next door neighbor, so it is to be expected that those mired in poverty, whose aspirations are crushed early in life, are easily placed within the arms of the "justice" system that puts them away to be forgotten, if not to be put to death. Recent years have seen one of the two major political parties warmly embrace "law and order" with harsh mandatory rules that eagerly take away the leeway given a judge in favor of strict, absolute sentencing that seeks to lock up and throw away the key. Anger has taken the place of justice and our prisons burst with inmates, many of whom do not belong there. This production line for incarceration is antithesis to the justice Lyon seeks. Lyon takes us through her life by taking us through her days on the job. She goes to see a convict with the intention of finding out all that can be discovered about the circumstances of the crime, not being put off by the fact that a court has made a decision. Against the word hopeless she pits persistence and determination through investigation. Time and again her approach is vindicated in the salvation of the individual who is liberated, if not in body then in mind, by seeing real justice done. This book is a perfect companion to Steve Bogira's Courtroom 302. That book documents the dis-functional operation of the same Cook County, Illinois court system where Lyon has done most of her work. Lyon is expert at painlessly slipping in the procedures and workings of the law and lawyers so we can understand why things have arrived at the state they are in. Addressing the graduating class of Antioch College in 1859, Horace Mann famously said "be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity". Though Andrea Lyon was not there to hear those words, that spirit informs her ambition. Humanity has won a victory through her work.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    This is a small universe of books that focus on the death penalty. Here are a few that I have found if you are interested in doing more reading on the topic: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/... Angel of Death Row is moving and well written. It will hold your attention from page one. This book is an example of one way to win hearts and minds. Lyon started as a young woman on fire to change the world and she has kept that fire burning one death penalty case at a time. When I am asked the clas This is a small universe of books that focus on the death penalty. Here are a few that I have found if you are interested in doing more reading on the topic: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/... Angel of Death Row is moving and well written. It will hold your attention from page one. This book is an example of one way to win hearts and minds. Lyon started as a young woman on fire to change the world and she has kept that fire burning one death penalty case at a time. When I am asked the classic question “How can you defend those people?” I answer that I am representing an ideal as well as a person. The ideal is justice, the principle that every accused person has the right to a vigorous defense. The State should be able to convict someone only with solid proof. Otherwise, we have no democracy. I strongly identify with the author, Andrea Lyon. She is feisty, principled, hard working, intelligent, dedicated, and is willing to take a risk speaking out for her clients in the courtroom. In short, she is the kind of person seeking justice upon whom I tried to pattern my life. She usually thinks she is right and most often is – at least in the stories she writes about herself. While she has a strong ego, she admits to experiencing nerves and fear regularly. She also discusses bumps in the road of her personal life that impact her work. She presents herself as a very open person. The book is a series of stories about cases that Ms. Lyon has tried (mostly in Chicago) beginning in 1979 up until the time the book was published in 2010. After her experience as a public defender, she moved into handling appeals for people on death row. Even in appeals her investigative skills played a significant role. The book is based on true events; “names, places, and other details have been changed for the sake of privacy.” At times I had tears in my eyes seeing her determination to seek the best course for a case as well as seeing her evaluation of the outcomes and consequences. The words written by Andrea Lyon are often beautiful and hopeful and can transfer that hope to the rest of us. She shares the stories of men and women who have not had many of the benefits in life as most of us have had. I believe that every person I have defended is a human being of value. Some are terribly damaged; some lack even tenuous connections to reality. Each of their lives tells us about the way in which individuals and institutions can go horribly astray, but they also reveal what remains human and noble in the midst of such waste. Even people facing the most horrendous prospects are still capable of caring about someone other than themselves. And even those who have demonstrated total indifference to the lives of others can change. Redemption is possible. As long as there is life, even if it is life in prison with no chance of parole, there is hope for change. That’s why I chose this career. That’s why I’m still at it. Angel of Death Row shows in its pages how you can get a piece of that hope. This book is just as moving as one of my most favorite books Dead Man Walking . In each book we meet a woman who is dedicated to helping those who are faced with capital punishment, even those on death row. This is a very readable book that will help you understand why a growing number of people oppose the death penalty. You will read about people who have been on death row, sometimes for many years, and have been exonerated. Some of the crimes are brutal and horrific. Many of the cases include examples of mitigating circumstances that are legal arguments in the penalty phase of the trial to try to obtain a sentence of life without parole rather than death. This disposition is more common as awareness grows about the real fallibility of the system. When I read books that question or oppose the death penalty, I wonder if they don’t predominantly preach to the choir. While I have opposed the death penalty for as long as I can remember, I think this book can also say something important to those in favor. We dehumanize people to make it easier for us to kill them. This book humanizes people and asks us to let them live. I give it five stars for making a most commendable effort to make a case against the death penalty. I hope it has changed some minds.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mazola1

    Knowing that you often can tell a book by its cover, I was prepared for Angel of Death Row to be a bleeding heart liberal condemnation of the American criminal justice system in general and the death penalty in particular. After all, on the cover is the subtitle "My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer," and at the top, above the title and in letters larger than the subtitle is the name of Alan M. Dershowitz, who wrote the forward. Although Lyon's book is to some extent those things, it's also Knowing that you often can tell a book by its cover, I was prepared for Angel of Death Row to be a bleeding heart liberal condemnation of the American criminal justice system in general and the death penalty in particular. After all, on the cover is the subtitle "My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer," and at the top, above the title and in letters larger than the subtitle is the name of Alan M. Dershowitz, who wrote the forward. Although Lyon's book is to some extent those things, it's also a terrific book of courtroom tales. Some of those tales are what you might expect -- tales of struggles against bigoted judges, prosecutors who don't play by the rules, horrific crimes, horribly injured victims and damaged defendants. But some of the tales are simply tales of talking to people, teasing their stories out of them, finding common ground with victims, criminals, families. Lyon made a career out of defending those facing the death penalty, one of the first women to do so. Her stories are well chosen, crisply told and compelling. While Lyon didn't always like the people she represented, she always strove to understand them and treat them as fellow human beings. In doing so, she discovered that many had complicated life stories worth hearing and worth writing about. The gang enforcer who counseled his siblings to avoid gangs and crime and asked Lyon to bring him books of poetry, the woman who smothered her infant to keep her from being abused as she had been, poor minority defendants used to being ignored who were grateful that someone took moment to ask about their lives. Lyon's work is often hard and discouraging and often disparaged by those who don't see the point of it. She writes: "When I am asked the classic question, 'How can you defend those people?' I answer that I am representing an ideal as well as a person. The ideal is justice, the principle that every accused person has a right toa vigorous defense. The State should be able to convict someone only with solid proof. Otherwise, we have no democracy." Lyon truly believes that and her career and book bear that out. But if you think this is a dry, legalistic treatise, you'd be dead wrong. It's a fascinating collection of trial lawyer war stories, maybe not as "good" as television trial tales, but more human and more real.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    Full disclosure: I know Andrea, I've worked with Andrea, I've represented some of the same people, I know and have worked with people she writes about in this book. But I'm going to review this book all the same. Andrea joined the Cook County (IL) Public Defender's Office at a time when there were very few women trial lawyers, much less criminal defense lawyers. She took a lot of guff from prosecutors, judges and colleagues, but she never let it stop her. By the time she left that office, she was Full disclosure: I know Andrea, I've worked with Andrea, I've represented some of the same people, I know and have worked with people she writes about in this book. But I'm going to review this book all the same. Andrea joined the Cook County (IL) Public Defender's Office at a time when there were very few women trial lawyers, much less criminal defense lawyers. She took a lot of guff from prosecutors, judges and colleagues, but she never let it stop her. By the time she left that office, she was the head of the Homicide Task Force, than which there are, in no small part thanks to Andrea, no better lawyers. She went on to found the Capital Resource Center, representing Illinois' death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings (the Center is now the Post-Conviction Unit of the Office of the State Appellate Defender), and then moved on to clinical work at the University of Michigan and the DePaul University School of Law, where she heads the Center for Justice in Capital Cases. This is the story of how she came to be "The Angel of Death Row", as she was dubbed by the Chicago Tribune. She talks of her life, her family, and her clients in an easy, conversational style. It's not a book that's heavy on the law; that's not what it's about. It's about people. The people she works with, the people she lives with, the people she represents. The last are the most important. It's so easy to see criminal defendants as "the other"; Andrea helps us (as she has helped juries) see the man or woman, and how they got to be sitting in the defendant's seat. Some of the stories are horrific, some are sad, some are incomprehensible. But they are all stories of human beings whose lives went terribly wrong. Andrea knows that the "why" is as important as the "what" in these stories, and she is indefatigable in conveying that to judges and juries. Andrea's passion for justice and her anger at injustice and the system that tolerates it are obvious on every page of this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ambimb

    Andrea Lyon tells the story of her life's work, first as a public defender in Cook County, IL (Chicago) and then as a private public-interest attorney litigating post-conviction claims (appeals, habeus and clemency petitions, etc.) on behalf of people sentenced to death. As a public defender myself I can say that this is a great book that everyone should read. Although a cynic might try to dismiss this book as just another lawyer thinking her cases and life are something special, that would simp Andrea Lyon tells the story of her life's work, first as a public defender in Cook County, IL (Chicago) and then as a private public-interest attorney litigating post-conviction claims (appeals, habeus and clemency petitions, etc.) on behalf of people sentenced to death. As a public defender myself I can say that this is a great book that everyone should read. Although a cynic might try to dismiss this book as just another lawyer thinking her cases and life are something special, that would simply be unfair. Lyon strikes a beautiful balance here by never sounding boastful even as she describes the Herculean feats she has accomplished in her life and work. She clearly takes pride in her accomplishments, but she is always humble and understated in making you understand how well-deserved that pride really is. If anything, she is too humble, which risks giving the impression that the cases she tried, the battles she won, were not all that difficult, when nothing could be further from the truth. Fighting the immense power of the state, standing up to prejudice and fear, working with and for people upon whom the rest of society has given up, then figuring out how to connect with a jury, finding a way to get 12 people to see past their fears and prejudices and biases and see the human being they are judging—it all takes something close to magic and for Lyon to make it seem easy shows just how good she is. But that's exactly why everyone should read this book: it's a collection of powerful and poignant examples of how important public defenders are and what a valuable role they play in out society. Lyon kept innocent people out of prison and prevented the state from destroying valuable and redeemable human lives. She spent her career standing up and fighting for people who had no one and nothing, and reminding all of us that we cannot have justice without someone like her fighting on behalf of those we, as a society, have accused of crimes. This is what public defenders do. And just as Lyon connected with all those juries, in this book she connects with readers to help them understand the importance and righteousness of the work she has done. I loved this book, but no book is perfect and this one could have been improved (at least for me) in two main ways. First, the book largely avoids discussion of the politics of being a public defender, and especially a public defender in Chicago. Lyon does address the misogyny and homophobia of judges, and she mentions that politics can play a role in cases, such as when juries may be likely to want to convict a defendant more if the "victim" is white and/or wealthy and/or holds a prominent position. That's all great stuff, but I wanted more. What about the politics within the office itself? (She does mention that "political patronage plays a substantial role" in hiring public defenders, something that may be less true today but....) What about the union? What about the battles public defenders often have to wage against supervisors and politicians for resources and time to work a case the right way? On this point, the bit of history Lyon provides about the genesis of the Homicide Task Force is fascinating. She relates how she asked the Task Force's founder, Bill Murphy, about it. "It's where the best trial lawyers and the real troublemakers end up," he said. You have to hope that's true, considering the seriousness of the cases the Task Force's members carry. But Murphy goes on to explain that he started the unit because he saw that people were getting passed from lawyer to lawyer for weeks or even months from the time of their arrest to the time of anyone getting serious about fighting their case. Murphy saw that this was a horrible way to fight a criminal charge, not to mention a horrible way to give anyone the impression that public defenders are real lawyers who care about their clients. So Murphy started Homicide Task (known inside the office today as Murder Task) to make sure that lawyers met people accused of the most serious crimes at preliminary hearing and followed their cases all the way through to final judgment. He should have gone farther and made sure the lawyers started on the case at bond hearing or before, but at least it's something. Today, Murder Task still exists and provides that sort of continuous representation to a handful of defendants in Cook County. For everyone else, the office remains broken, leaving defendants more or less without counsel until weeks or months after their arrest. It's appalling, really, and both amazing and depressing to learn that it's been this way for more than 30 years. In addition to my wish that the book included more such insights and history into the inner workings of one of the nation's largest public defender offices, my second quibble is that the actual order of the chapters seemed off to me. Specifically, the penultimate and last chapters should be switched. Dierdre's story in chapter 12 was the climax of the book — the story of the innocent woman who spent years on death row, lost every appeal and post-conviction plea despite good evidence of actual innocence, and then was saved at the last minute by a governor's pardon. This was the case that seemed most touching and dramatic and which Lyon built up the most and to greatest effect. This was also the case of which Lyon seemed most proud. Chronologically it came, as far as I could tell, later than most or all of the other cases Lyon discusses. Finally, it had about the happiest possible ending anyone could hope for. All of this meant that when I reached the conclusion of that chapter, it felt like Lyon's life had come full circle, like she had told about all there was to tell. It felt like a climax and something of an exclamation point. The end. Yet with no transition, the book moves right on to the final chapter, the story of another case, one that Lyon worked on before her triumph with Dierdre, and one that could not hope to top the impact of Dierdre's story in any way. While I enjoyed this chapter, it felt out of place and anticlimactic. There is no reason for anything except possibly a short epilogue to follow Dierdre's story. For me, and I suspect for many other readers, the book would come to a more natural and satisfying conclusion if these two chapters were rearranged. Finally, the epilogue attempts to being us all up to date on the death penalty in IL but even though the book was published in 2010 it is already out of date. In 2011 Illinois abolished the death penalty once and for all. We can thank Lyon for working tirelessly to defeat that terrible punishment when it was legal, and for showing its flaws so that legislatures could see that ending it was the right thing to do.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Susan (aka Just My Op)

    Ms. Lyon was a public defender, is a defense attorney, a thankless job representing the people we love to hate. Her specialty -- getting people off death row. In theory, I have been against the death penalty. It seems barbaric to kill someone in response to killing someone. I'm just not that eye-for-an-eye. But my theory is often tested when I hear of some truly heinous crime, something that makes someone seem so cruel that they do not seem human. Someone who should never walk the streets again. Ms. Lyon was a public defender, is a defense attorney, a thankless job representing the people we love to hate. Her specialty -- getting people off death row. In theory, I have been against the death penalty. It seems barbaric to kill someone in response to killing someone. I'm just not that eye-for-an-eye. But my theory is often tested when I hear of some truly heinous crime, something that makes someone seem so cruel that they do not seem human. Someone who should never walk the streets again. Ms. Lyon believes everyone capable of redemption. I am not sure I believe that. But, and this is a big "but," I always had faith that our legal system was fair, with the occasional mistake as the exception. I know of the unreliability of eye witness testimonies and of coerced false confessions. What I didn't know is how much politics enters into judgments. How racist, misogynist, corrupt judges are allowed to rule and preside in cases they should never touch. How appeals can be denied even when important new evidence is discovered and presented. In short, I never knew how flawed our legal system is. The cases in this book all show these people sentenced to death row as people, often disenfranchised, often with violent backgrounds, often desperately poor, but people. The statistics of who is sent to death row are astounding. If you are African-American and poor, don't expect the justice system to work for you. Some of these stories are truly heartbreaking. Imagine spending years of your life in 23-hour a day lockup, waiting for someone to legally kill you, for something you didn't do. I still have faith that most judges are honest and fair. Whether that is true, I don't know. But there has to be a better way to get the dishonest ones, the racists and corrupt ones, off the bench. There has to be a way to make representation fair and not about politics, not just about "the kill" of winning. Ms. Lyon was part of the defense team for Casey Anthony. That one is hard for me. She left the team. Why do I think this book deserves five stars? Ms. Lyon has a job I would absolutely hate, yet she has done it for years, never giving up on justice, in the right to a fair trial. In her personal life, she has made some of the same bad decisions her clients have made but to a much lesser degree. She is real, she is believable. The most important part of this book is that it will cause discussion, it will cause open-minded people who believe in the death penalty to see the other side of the coin. Perhaps it will lead to some reform of the legal system. It will help us know that there is another side to the coin, what we hear isn't always the truth, isn't always the whole story. As Ms. Lyon says at the end of her book: "It takes enormous effort to drag the courts, sometimes against staggering opposition, toward what is fair and humane. And to me, fair and humane is the definition of justice. We may never arrive at a state that perfectly balances these two concepts, but we affirm our own humanity in the attempt." The quote may have changed in the published edition. I read an Advanced Readers Edition given to me by a friend. Thank you, Tara, both for the recommendation and for your copy of the book. I highly recommend reading this one.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    As a general policy, I want to read anything written by a Public Defender, because I am a Public Defender. This was no exception. Much like Defending the Damned, part of this book was focused on Lyon's work in the Homicide Task Force in the Cook County Public Defender's Office. Themes of the book include rising through the ranks as a female attorney, balancing life and work, and viewing each client as an individual (no matter their race, life history, attitude towards Lyon). I was inspired by Ly As a general policy, I want to read anything written by a Public Defender, because I am a Public Defender. This was no exception. Much like Defending the Damned, part of this book was focused on Lyon's work in the Homicide Task Force in the Cook County Public Defender's Office. Themes of the book include rising through the ranks as a female attorney, balancing life and work, and viewing each client as an individual (no matter their race, life history, attitude towards Lyon). I was inspired by Lyon's ability to dedicate and give all of herself to the job, even though she had to make sacrifices in her personal life to accomplish her great success in the workplace. This is a struggle most Public Defender's face, myself included. Understaffing, lack of resources, and ridiculously heavy caseloads create a situation where working overtime isn't a choice, it's a necessity. Eventually, Lyons was able to find a balance - she ended up with children (a daughter and step-son) and married. On a number of occasions, I started crying - moved by the stories of her clients and how she used the legal system to get them a fair outcome. What people who don't practice criminal defense don't understand, but what Lyons perfectly illustrated, is that sometimes it isn't about getting an acquittal. Rather, it's about getting the best outcome we can for our clients. The book only dragged when Lyon repeated herself (brief stories or her position as anti-death penalty) or explained legal terms/procedures. As a public defender myself, the latter is probably only a complaint I would raise, as I am familiar with the legal speak.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Andrea Lyon is one of the most fascinating and honest women I know. When I say "know," it is with great honor that I get to be her facebook friend. Some authors really strike a resonating cord and I seek them out to actively stalk them. This is one of them. The book contains 12 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter reads like a very well written essay that can stand alone but, as is Andrea's way, when taken as a whole with the other stories, the journey is much more satisfying. The author begins Andrea Lyon is one of the most fascinating and honest women I know. When I say "know," it is with great honor that I get to be her facebook friend. Some authors really strike a resonating cord and I seek them out to actively stalk them. This is one of them. The book contains 12 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter reads like a very well written essay that can stand alone but, as is Andrea's way, when taken as a whole with the other stories, the journey is much more satisfying. The author begins her career as an attorney in the late '70's as a public defender. She is presented with cases that are horrifying, engaging, and often mishandled. Woven within the pages is Andrea Lyon, an articulate, intelligent, fallible human being who cries when she meets a downtrodden client and brings home (to her own home), a client she has successfully proved not guilty of the crime convicted of. Competent in her chosen career, the author suffers from poor decision making in her personal life. Through her experiences, she recognizes it and rectifies it. I could not put the book down. Andrea introduces the reader to some of her clients that have been instrumental in solidifying her own choices. Most are residents of death row. This means they have been arrested, charged with murder, a jury trial held, and found guilty. Some are guilty. Some are not. Her job is to provide the best possible outcome for these people. She strongly believes that every life is precious and redemption is always possible. The pious majority believe that if a person is arrested and charged with a crime, they are probably guilty. This flies in the face of the concept, "Innocent until proven guilty." The burden of proof to make an arrest by law enforcement is not monitored. One woman was charged with the murder of her boyfriend based on one eyewitness who "thought" she saw the woman's car leave the area at a certain hour. The other evidence was a broken fingernail found in her own garbage can. Her own. The detective surmised it broke while she killed her boyfriend. That's it. Except that isn't really it. The detective did not present all of the evidence found for discovery. For instance, there were a number of other people who possessed the boyfriend's house key. There was a man dressed in a uniform wandering around the streets at the time of the murder and mentioned something about the crime before it was discovered later that morning. He was later polygraphed and failed. It was such a flimsy case, the defense attorney didn't even try to prove her client was not guilty. Arrogance in an attorney can have disastrous results. She was convicted. Key points I found fascinating: * Arrests can be made with insufficient evidence. Oft times the evidence is simply that the accused survived a horrible tragedy (a case of an apartment fire where 7 people died, including a man's wife and child. He was arrested without any evidence). * Once under arrest, the most unlikely to leave are the truly indigent, particularly African American. If bail is set, they are too poor to make bail. * Even if innocent, they will stay in jail thus losing their means of support and income. * There are detectives who do and will use torture to force a confession. One man spent three hours with a typewriter cover tied over his head while being intimidated and tortured for a confession. He never gave it. The detectives claimed he signed a confession but coffee was spilled on it so it was thrown away. Their word was accepted as evidence. * The client is nearly always over charged. This means the defense attorney has to file motions to get each charge addressed in court with the judge or accept a plea deal, guilty or not. * Without income or savings, the accused is forced to accept counsel from a public defender who carries far too many cases to effectively defend the client. * Judges make a huge difference in the way the case will be handled. They are not necessarily represented in the image of Lady Justice, holding a scale with a blindfold. The author has heard her share of bigotry, misogyny, and other prejudices in open court. Judges can choose whether or not to allow exhibits that would exonerate the accused without basis of law. * It is terrifyingly easy to be accused of a crime and have all of the above conditions for any person in this country. The Illinois governor, George Ryan, made this statement: "Three years ago, I was faced with startling information. We had exonerated not one, not two, but thirteen men from death row... The state nearly killed innocent people, nearly injected them with a cocktail of deadly poisons so that they could die in front of witnesses on a gurney in the state's death chamber." "Thirty-three death row inmates were represented at trial by attorneys who had later been disbarred or at some point suspended from practicing law. Of the more than 160 death row inmates, 35 are African-American defendants who were convicted or condemned to die by all all-white juries. More than two thirds of the inmates on death row are African-American. Forty-six inmates were convicted on the basis of testimony from jailhouse informants." That, right there, frightens me silly.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    It's a pleasure to read about people in the criminal justice system working tirelessly to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law. Her stories of providing counsel for the poor are well-written and describe unbelievably sad cases of people being done wrong. After being infuriated at the injustices being described, I think I cried at the end of each chapter when things were made right. It's a pleasure to read about people in the criminal justice system working tirelessly to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law. Her stories of providing counsel for the poor are well-written and describe unbelievably sad cases of people being done wrong. After being infuriated at the injustices being described, I think I cried at the end of each chapter when things were made right.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erin Carey

    Although I am no longer a public defender, I am still fascinated by the practice and enjoy discussing experiences with colleagues. So when a friend of mine recommended this book to me I was instantly looking forward to reading it. I had read "Defending the Damned" a few years back - a book based on attorneys in the same office as Ms. Lyon - and was excited about Lyon's personal take on the life she lived as a public defender on the Homicide Task Force. Having been in similar situations myself as Although I am no longer a public defender, I am still fascinated by the practice and enjoy discussing experiences with colleagues. So when a friend of mine recommended this book to me I was instantly looking forward to reading it. I had read "Defending the Damned" a few years back - a book based on attorneys in the same office as Ms. Lyon - and was excited about Lyon's personal take on the life she lived as a public defender on the Homicide Task Force. Having been in similar situations myself as Lyon, albiet not dealing with clients facing the death penalty, it was easy to imagine myself in every aspect of her case: the initial "what am I going to do" feeling when assigned what seems to be a hopeless case, the excitement when realizing things may not be as they seem and the satisfaction of a fair resolution. There are also disappointments and frustration, many times outweighing "wins." (A "win" in these cases doesn't necessarily mean an acquittal. Sometimes it just means providing the client with a fair trial and having his/her voice heard.) Overall, I enjoyed the book. I think she did a great job of portraying the discrimination she faced as a woman in a male-dominated profession and the frustration she felt as single woman devoted to career, wondering if she has to choose her profession over a family. (I was quietly cheering when she met her husband and joined their families together.) Additionally, she was able to discuss the problems in the justice system, such as mental illness, racism, and hopelessness that are many times overlooked. She made the clients people. Had I not already been opposed to the death penalty, this book would have made me think long and hard about my position and I recommend it to anybody struggling (and even those set in their beliefs) with this decision.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tara Chevrestt

    I have always been for the death penalty, but after reading this book, I no longer see it as such a quick solution to America's crime rate. My eyes have been opened to a surprising world of corruption hiding behind the law. Innocent people get wrongly accused and underdogs (minorities and people of low financial means) often fail to get their side of the story heard. Wealth and social status play too large a role in determining who lives behind bars and who merely pays a fine. Ms. Lyon begins her I have always been for the death penalty, but after reading this book, I no longer see it as such a quick solution to America's crime rate. My eyes have been opened to a surprising world of corruption hiding behind the law. Innocent people get wrongly accused and underdogs (minorities and people of low financial means) often fail to get their side of the story heard. Wealth and social status play too large a role in determining who lives behind bars and who merely pays a fine. Ms. Lyon begins her tale with a brief look at her childhood and her aspirations and how she became a D.A. Her cases over fourteen years include battered wives, ex police officers, a man that wanted the death penalty in hopes it would ban divorce in the long run, a gang member possibly mis identified in a line up, an innocent man that spent four years in jail anyway, a pcp murderer, and more. To top that off, Ms. Lyon also had to deal with prejudice judges not only making comments about her sex, but also about her weight. A major issue under scrutiny throughout the book is racism and how race determines one's treatment in court and how judges, lawyers, and jurors often cannot see behind the skin tone. An amazing woman with an amazing career to tell about. I liked how gutsy Ms. Lyon was towards many a sexist judge. I also liked how she kept her personal life to minimum and did not overburden readers with too much personal details. You know she is having a baby and going thru a tough relationship, but there is no lurid details or word for word conversations. Great book. I plan on reading it again one day.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Khris Sellin

    I'm all about the Innocence Project and saving the West Memphis Three, so this book called out to me (and it was free). Andrea Lyon is, as the title says, a death penalty defense lawyer, based mostly out of Chicago. This book reads like a compilation of short stories, each one describing her most memorable cases. She also sprinkles in bits of her life story along the way. While she does at times seem a little self-congratulatory, these stories need to be told. She represents a group who in the pa I'm all about the Innocence Project and saving the West Memphis Three, so this book called out to me (and it was free). Andrea Lyon is, as the title says, a death penalty defense lawyer, based mostly out of Chicago. This book reads like a compilation of short stories, each one describing her most memorable cases. She also sprinkles in bits of her life story along the way. While she does at times seem a little self-congratulatory, these stories need to be told. She represents a group who in the past had been underrepresented, stuck with uncaring, overworked, less-than-qualified defense attorneys. Ms. Lyon really takes the time to get to know her clients, their life stories, and fights hard for them - whether they're guilty or innocent. And we now know there are plenty of innocent people on death row. Some people criticized her for making some police officers and prosecutors sound almost villainous. First of all, she does not portray all of them in that way, and second of all, anyone who believes there are no corrupt police officers or overzealous prosecutors is sadly mistaken, as evidenced by the recent sentencing of Jon Burge, a former Chicago police officer convicted of lying about police torture of suspects in custody.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    I really truly believe that you are more than your worst act and less than your best act. Humans are exasperatingly complicated. How I come to a decision (good or bad) is completely different than how you come to a decision. People do heinous crimes, but that is not the sum of who they are, they are people with emotions, dreams, expectations too. I am not talking about serial killers or people suffering from severe psychosis. Crime committed by the rich compared to the poor is fascinating as wel I really truly believe that you are more than your worst act and less than your best act. Humans are exasperatingly complicated. How I come to a decision (good or bad) is completely different than how you come to a decision. People do heinous crimes, but that is not the sum of who they are, they are people with emotions, dreams, expectations too. I am not talking about serial killers or people suffering from severe psychosis. Crime committed by the rich compared to the poor is fascinating as well. Poverty is a factor in the majority of crime. At what point do we weigh the options of retribution against punishment. Is it worth keeping someone behind bars for 20 odd years when they could be out on the streets fighting against mental health and poverty? Which one does more good for the overall health of society? How much is a single person's life worth? Murdered or murderer. This book made me spend countless hours pondering so many questions.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I was thoroughly impressed with this book and not only because I personally know the author. I think I may have found myself in even more awe of her than I already way. Andrea Lyon is a wonderful writer and the book flies by because each case is so interesting. She has devoted her life to justice of the people and fighting the death penalty. I was brought to tears with some of the stories and I couldn´t imagine the amount of emotional stress she has endured. This book brings to light how complic I was thoroughly impressed with this book and not only because I personally know the author. I think I may have found myself in even more awe of her than I already way. Andrea Lyon is a wonderful writer and the book flies by because each case is so interesting. She has devoted her life to justice of the people and fighting the death penalty. I was brought to tears with some of the stories and I couldn´t imagine the amount of emotional stress she has endured. This book brings to light how complicated and corrupt the judicial system can be and how it can also prevail. I like that she does not bring a pessimistic tone to the book even though there are many reasons she could have. I think that is what makes her a great lawyer. She is honest, loyal and dedicated to providing justice to her clients. Death is never a good option and I agree with that.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ana-Maria Bujor

    I have always had great interest in systems that still have the death penalty, together with its moral implications and the risk to put innocent people to death. Clearly the system is far from perfect and this book, although definitely subjective, shows it powerfully. I have great respect for the people who work hard as public defenders to do the best they can for what most of us perceive to be the scum of the earth. So this is why I could not stop reading this series of account that have the pe I have always had great interest in systems that still have the death penalty, together with its moral implications and the risk to put innocent people to death. Clearly the system is far from perfect and this book, although definitely subjective, shows it powerfully. I have great respect for the people who work hard as public defenders to do the best they can for what most of us perceive to be the scum of the earth. So this is why I could not stop reading this series of account that have the perfect blend of procedural information and emotion. What to you do when your client begs you to let the state execute her? What do you do when you know you are defending a wrongly imprisoned innocent person but you've run out of legal options? This book tries to answer. And it does it in the most humane way possible.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Being a public defender is a tough job, and I respect anyone who takes it on. Having said that, I wish ALL public defenders took their jobs as seriously as Andrea Lyons! This book made me want to be a better lawyer. It also reminded me why I'm not pursuing criminal law! Being a public defender is a tough job, and I respect anyone who takes it on. Having said that, I wish ALL public defenders took their jobs as seriously as Andrea Lyons! This book made me want to be a better lawyer. It also reminded me why I'm not pursuing criminal law!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Reforming

    3.5 Very engaging autobiography. Fascinating stories. Helped me decide whether I would want to be a lawyer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pennylope

    I enjoyed this book, although the Kindle edition was full of typos.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Teri Pre

    Excellent read. If you got this one for free, bump it up your list! It's great! Excellent read. If you got this one for free, bump it up your list! It's great!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Despite my feelings on the PIC, leading up to this book I admit I still had a hard time understanding why defense attorneys do what they do, or maybe more importantly /how/ they justify getting acquittals for guilty people, taking advantage of legal technicalities, etc etc. Of course any person's heartstrings are tugged hearing a story of an innocent man being released after x years in prison, and it's easy to view the people who freed them as heroes. I've never really thought much about the les Despite my feelings on the PIC, leading up to this book I admit I still had a hard time understanding why defense attorneys do what they do, or maybe more importantly /how/ they justify getting acquittals for guilty people, taking advantage of legal technicalities, etc etc. Of course any person's heartstrings are tugged hearing a story of an innocent man being released after x years in prison, and it's easy to view the people who freed them as heroes. I've never really thought much about the less glamorous part of the job, where morality and judgment are tested against a centuries-old system that too often doesn't protect who and what it's supposed to. Perhaps I should cut back on the SVU and true crime documentaries where I am well aware of how courtroom proceedings are framed, how we are told to view guilt vs innocence; the idea of there being a good guy and bad guy in every situation is a dangerous one, especially considering who has the power to label people as good or bad. Anyway, I just loved Lyon's storytelling here. She's got no shortage of experiences to write about, and her style was captivating and informative, with often (relatively) satisfying conclusions. This one's going to stick with me for a while.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kerys (The Everlasting Library)

    A moving and thought-provoking book about why the death penalty should be abolished. It is filled with stories of people that have been wrongly convicted, not been given fair counsel or defense, and those that have been convicted as a result of prejudice and politics. Lyon's storytelling kept me engaged throughout the book and showed the devastating, inhumane effects of the death penalty. Definitely worth reading if you want to become more aware of capital punishment and its impacts. 'When I a A moving and thought-provoking book about why the death penalty should be abolished. It is filled with stories of people that have been wrongly convicted, not been given fair counsel or defense, and those that have been convicted as a result of prejudice and politics. Lyon's storytelling kept me engaged throughout the book and showed the devastating, inhumane effects of the death penalty. Definitely worth reading if you want to become more aware of capital punishment and its impacts. 'When I am asked the classic question “How can you defend those people?” I answer that I am representing an ideal as well as a person. The ideal is justice, the principle that every accused person has the right to a vigorous defense. The State should be able to convict someone only with solid proof. Otherwise, we have no democracy.'

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Wow. I thought I would have a hard time with this one--not because of the subject matter but because many of these books either go overboard with the details of the people involved or with the legal aspect. Obviously, as an attorney, I am interested in the legal maneuverings but to much of that gets dry quickly. At the same time, too much of the people details ends up feeling shmoopy. Ms. Lyon strokes a nice balance between the two. Not only that, she does so in a way that is extraordinarily comp Wow. I thought I would have a hard time with this one--not because of the subject matter but because many of these books either go overboard with the details of the people involved or with the legal aspect. Obviously, as an attorney, I am interested in the legal maneuverings but to much of that gets dry quickly. At the same time, too much of the people details ends up feeling shmoopy. Ms. Lyon strokes a nice balance between the two. Not only that, she does so in a way that is extraordinarily compelling. She may have me rethinking my career path.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David Szatkowski

    This is a good book to challenge how we see the criminal justice system. Through her work, Professor Lyon has the experience and insight to challenge how we approach capital punishment in this country, regardless of where you stand on it in principle. I think this book makes a good and important contribution to this wider societal discussion on criminal Justice and the reform necessary to be more just.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Leeann

    Having briefly worked for Andrea, this book was a wonderful insight into her character. She explains the justice (or lack thereof) system in a way that is easily understandable and paints even her most horrendous clients as human. An excellent read for anyone who wants (or needs!j to know more about capital punishment.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lis

    I learned a lot about the criminal justice system and the life of a death penalty defense lawyer. I'm thankful for the new awareness. Rarely is anything as cut and dry as it may appear. Andrea is a unique person who fights tirelessly for what is right. We need more people like her. I learned a lot about the criminal justice system and the life of a death penalty defense lawyer. I'm thankful for the new awareness. Rarely is anything as cut and dry as it may appear. Andrea is a unique person who fights tirelessly for what is right. We need more people like her.

  26. 5 out of 5

    zltg

    "Intractable human problems produce damaged people who then do violence to others." Quoting the Criminal podcast, "people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle." "Intractable human problems produce damaged people who then do violence to others." Quoting the Criminal podcast, "people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Samantha (my_read_feed)

    This book goes chapter by chapter through different death penalty and murder cases that Andrea Lyon has worked on. She’s known as the angel of death row as she’s never lost a death penalty case—meaning she’s never lost the *sentencing* portion of the case, most of her clients still went to prison for life. I liked how Lyon talked about a different case in each chapter, it really kept me engaged. I also liked how much of a badass feminist she was. She would not take any derogatory comments, words This book goes chapter by chapter through different death penalty and murder cases that Andrea Lyon has worked on. She’s known as the angel of death row as she’s never lost a death penalty case—meaning she’s never lost the *sentencing* portion of the case, most of her clients still went to prison for life. I liked how Lyon talked about a different case in each chapter, it really kept me engaged. I also liked how much of a badass feminist she was. She would not take any derogatory comments, words, or looks. She is one of the people who has paved the way for me to be a lawyer today and I couldn’t be more appreciative. There were some things I didn’t love, mainly in the form of writing—didn’t excite me, or keep me entertained enough—but overall a good read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    "Sometimes I think of myself as an archaeologist of social despair, unearthing, layer by layer, my clients' descent into criminal jeopardy. The innocent are often drawn into a vulnerable position by the same destructive forces. This investigation was leading, as so many of my cases did, to the critical intersection of poverty and health. Mental illness, child abuse, environmental toxins--all are damaging on their own. When they are intertwined with poverty, the result is often a hopeless downwar "Sometimes I think of myself as an archaeologist of social despair, unearthing, layer by layer, my clients' descent into criminal jeopardy. The innocent are often drawn into a vulnerable position by the same destructive forces. This investigation was leading, as so many of my cases did, to the critical intersection of poverty and health. Mental illness, child abuse, environmental toxins--all are damaging on their own. When they are intertwined with poverty, the result is often a hopeless downward spiral."And it's people like Andrea Lyon who recognize and attempt to help these clients reclaim the humanity the justice system tries to deny them. In this extremely powerful memoir of her work as a trail-blazing defense attorney, Lyon relates the stories of various murder cases and her commitment to ensuring our justice system lives up to its name. Despite Lyon's accomplishments, there's little self-congratulation here. She is unfailingly sincere and honest, depicting her own biases and prejudices, her own shortcomings, her own embarrassments. She's a smart and passionate hard worker doing smart and passionate hard work. She demonstrates times her empathy assists in advocating for her clients, and the work it takes for her to access that empathy, but her empathy comes across in subtle, universal ways as well. Let's face it, empathy is scary, especially in the criminal justice system. ("Sure, being human in this inhumane system comes with a cost," Lyon writes. "If you open yourself up to emotional involvement with your clients, the prospect of losing is frightening, and the reality of losing hurts like hell. But it's a price I am willing to pay. Or maybe it's a price I don't know how not to pay.") And her empathy practically rubs off through the text; I related to her a lot, I was tearing up at various passages, and I finished the book feeling better informed about not only the work a good defense attorney does, and just how treacherous and difficult of an arena the legal system is. This isn't a crunchy analysis of the flaws in our justice system, or a hard-hitting tell-all about the racism or sexism that Lyon witnessed in the courtroom. She touches upon all of that, and it's intertwined within the entire narrative, but a reader looking for that kind of book, or for a thorough analysis of the data supporting arguments against capital punishment, should look elsewhere. I still at times wished for more information or references to studies in regards to information, however. (False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent, which I read earlier this year, would be a recommendation on where to start digging up that kind of information.) But overall, I appreciated this very engaging, well-written narrative that focused on people and still illustrated the systemic forces at work.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This book surprised me by making me think and wonder. It's written by a defense attorney who has worked mainly on cases with high stakes, where the penalty is either death or life in prison without parole. I've always been on the fence about the death penalty: I don't think I, personally, could vote for someone to be killed, but I like the fact that the "bad guys" are permanently out of the way. Ms. Lyons knows that her job isn't popular; she's one of the people trying to defend those bad guys. This book surprised me by making me think and wonder. It's written by a defense attorney who has worked mainly on cases with high stakes, where the penalty is either death or life in prison without parole. I've always been on the fence about the death penalty: I don't think I, personally, could vote for someone to be killed, but I like the fact that the "bad guys" are permanently out of the way. Ms. Lyons knows that her job isn't popular; she's one of the people trying to defend those bad guys. In her own words, "No matter what they did or did not do, I believe that every person I have defended is a human being of value. Redemption is possible, even for the unrepentant, but death puts an end to all possibilities. As long as there is life, even if it is a life in prison with no chance of parole, there is hope for change." The case studies in the book made me wonder what kind of juror I would be, and they made me realize how much my personal biases affect my presumption of guilt or innocence. Upon being told someone is a gang member or a prostitute, I imagine I would make assumptions about that person's guilt in an entirely unrelated activity. The author's goal is to help us look for humanity in all people. This book also made me uneasy about the lack of actual justice-seeking in our criminal justice system. In the examples the author used, politics affected most legal decisions. A judge up for re-election can't be seen as being "soft," so he sentences a likely-innocent man to death. A pair of attorneys receive a written confession of murder from a man who's already standing trial for another murder, but because of attorney-client privilege, they can't share this confession, so another innocent man spends 30 years in prison. Attorneys on each side use a judge's known biases against homosexuals, women, or non-white people to obtain the verdict they want. Public defenders, overworked and underpaid, don't put much effort into defending their clients, so the prisons are overrun with poor people who couldn't afford a good attorney. I wish there were easy answers.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Huma Rashid

    If I could go halfsies, this would get a 4.5. It's an incredible autobiography of the first woman to serve on the Murder Task Force in Cook County's Public Defenders office. (There was technically another 'first' woman but she lasted only a couple months and then quit, so the others on the task force didn't consider her a real member, and went back to hiring only men, until Andrea Lyon told the head of the force that maybe he'd just been hiring the wrong women or whatever.) It focuses on Andrea's If I could go halfsies, this would get a 4.5. It's an incredible autobiography of the first woman to serve on the Murder Task Force in Cook County's Public Defenders office. (There was technically another 'first' woman but she lasted only a couple months and then quit, so the others on the task force didn't consider her a real member, and went back to hiring only men, until Andrea Lyon told the head of the force that maybe he'd just been hiring the wrong women or whatever.) It focuses on Andrea's career with the MTF and then the Illinois Capital Punishment Resource Center, and doesn't really get into her childhood, adolescence or family life (although we do know about her rotten taste in men and her lovely daughter Samantha and her mother's bout with mental illness and her husband and their family). She tells lots of stories about her cases, referring to even more just in passing or to illustrate a point, and highlights issues of misogyny and hate she encountered as a larger woman in the profession, dating and marrying black men and carrying a child that a prosecutor once referred to as a "half-breed." Her story is imbued with the passion of an educator, the emotion and sensitivity of a woman (which is NOT a bad thing - far from it!), and all the humanity of an individual that fiercely believes in the power of redemption and rehabilitation. I wrote several entries about it here at my book journal , and if you read this, I also highly recommend "Defending the Damned" by Kevin Davis.

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