you the latest nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies and more, including charter communication. ♪ >> broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions upgrading technology, empowering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications along with these television companies supports c-span2 as a public service. >> you're watching booktv. for a complete television schedule, visit booktv.org. you can also follow along behind the scenes on social media @booktv on twitter, instagram and facebook. >> marc bookman spent many years
in the homicide unit of the defenders association of philadelphia. although this is his first book, you may be familiar with his work published in the atlantic, motherjo jones, vice and slate amongg others. tonight he'll be talking about hiss work of trying capital cass and both litigation and scholarly areas of capital punishment, legal l representatn for poor people accused of crimes, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and judicial independence. mix of cases that bookman worked on and those he's researched and the book looks at the death penalty in terms of public policy rather than through moral argument, revealing the system
in practice. scholarly yet largely accessible language, he evaluates a dozen cases that expose glaring injustices in the system, creating a clear and comprehensive portrait of a broken system. the cases he highlights make fascinating reading. publisher's weekly that it shows what's wrong with capital punishment. now i'm pleased to turn things over to tonight's speaker and so the digital podium is yours, mark and steven. good luck. >> thank you. i welcome any opportunity to talk about justice with mark bookman. mark is a good friend for a long time. he's done great work, as a public defender and director of the atlantic center. we will talk about that for a minute. claire, i want to thank you too. i spent many wonderful evenings
in the bookstore when i was in cambridge and appreciate this opportunity to talk to mark. as claire just said, 12 essays that mark has written about different aspects of the death penalty, about racism, about the lawyers assigned sometimes to defend people, about the judges who judge these cases other aspects of the book. before we talk about that, mark, i thought maybe i would ask you about your time as a public defender there in philadelphia and a lot of people may not realize how much the death penalty, how often it was [inaudible] at one time, how often it was imposed. the d.a., later the chief justice was there. maybe talk about that for a minute? >> sure, you know, philadelphia's been a hotbed of death penalty activity for decades really, and it started
before ron castille. the prosecutor before him was ed rendell later the mayor and governor. after ron castille was abraham, a legendary prosecutor for seeking the death penalty. new york times said she was america's deadliest d.a. at the time. so, you know, when i got into the homicide unit, i was in the first homicide unit for years, philadelphia did not let the public defenders handle homicides for political reasons. once we started in the defender homicide unit, we were only doing 20% of the cases, and, you know, i'd say 70% of the cases that the commonwealth of philadelphia district attorney would at least seek the death penalty. so it was, you know, it was trial by fire right from the very beginning.
>> [inaudible]. there was an expose about how they said people in these death penalty cases that the people in the court system wouldn't want to be represented by the lawyers that were assigned to traffic court that the lawyers were so bad. there was a real expose of just terrible legal representation of people facing the death penalty. >> yeah, a good friend that you know as well, you know, rick is the one that wrote this expose. he think he won a pulitzer prize for it. frankly, it embarrassed the city of philadelphia so such an extent that they felt like they had to elect a public defender -- had to let the public defender at least take some of these cases. ordinarily the public defender's office handles about 70% of
cases across the board. here we only been able to handle 20%. that limit to this day is only 20%. i think the city felt like it had no choice. it was a national embarrassment. it was basically a revolving door of injustice in philadelphia. >> i think the [inaudible] became involved 1993, is that right, and started handling 20% of the cases. never a single client represented by the defender's association has been sentenced to death. >> yeah, knock on the wood, that's still the case. i have to say, it is important i think for everyone to understand the defender association never took a death sentence. it is not because all of us in the defender office were such hot shot lawyers. what that showed i think was that competent, well-trained, well-resourced lawyers could basically get rid of the death
penalty. and so i think that's what it shows. it's not like we were going to trial and winning case after case. that's not the way it happened. i would describe it much more similar to the the recent experience in virginia, which i know you're familiar with. >> i was just going to say, what you did in philadelphia, the defender, capital defenders d i had in virginia, defendered -- defenders did in virginia for ten years. >> the virginia capital regional office is essentially turned the death penalty into a dinosaur. there was no point in paying the money anymore, and so there were no death sentences, and, you know, that really proves the point. if we just resource competent lawyers and train them, the death penalty becomes a real
rarity. >> and let me take just a minute and ask you to talk about the atlantic center. >> so, you know, pennsylvania shamefully is the only state that doesn't contribute any money for indigent defense. every county fends for itself. there's 67 counties in pennsylvania. you know, that encourages counties to cut corners and do it on the cheap, and that's how pennsylvania has always handled the death penalty. so the atlantic center is a resource -- it's really a resource center for people facing the death penalty either pretrial or after they have received the death sentence, we try to help in any way we can by offering training to lawyers across the state, and we consult in almost all the cases that we can consult on, and then, you
know, we do some individual representation as well. so we're basically, you know, a small nonprofit trying to keep a finger in the dam essentially. >> get's get to the book. it's a marvelous book. all 12 of the chapters in the book are fascinating. i thought one case i might ask you to talk about to begin with because it deals with both mental health issues which is a striking thing that we have learned about it in the book as well as race issues is andre thomas's case. it is a case out of texas. >> there's so much to talk about in that case, steve. i almost don't know where to begin. the facts themselves are horrific, but also incredibly emblematic of severe mental illness. mr. thomas killed three people. he used three separate knives.
he took their organs home in his pockets. i mean, a profoundly seriously mentally ill man, and frankly a man who, you know, i think reasonable people could say, you know, this was a very dangerous and awful crime, but he's so mentally ill that we shouldn't seek the death penalty against him. so there's a mental health aspect of that case. just to give the audience, i mean, you have to almost be seated to hear these facts. shortly after the crime, he removed one of his eyes, based on a biblical, you know, a biblical phrase. and then, you know, after he received the death penalty some years later, he blinded himself by removing his other eye, and so, you know, we're talking about severe profound mental
illness, but then layer on to that the unbelievable racism of this case. and, you know, again, i don't know where to start, but i do know where to end. on the jury, that convicted him, andre thomas is black man, he killed his white wife, his white wife who he had separated from and two children, both mixed race children, and three members of the jury who sat and rendered judgment on this case said in their questionnaires that they were against mixed marriage, such an outrageous declaration that this case is -- andre thomas is still facing execution. the fifth circuit recently affirmed his case even knowing these three jurors sat. what's remarkable to me is that
the dissent had to cite the case of loving versus virginia, basically legalized mixed marriage. i don't know how long ago that case was, 45 years ago or something along. the judge has to cite a case like loving versus virginia in a capital case, that's really remarkable, i think. >> the disturbing thing about it even after he gouged out his eye and pretty much left no doubt whatsoever about profoundly mentally ill he was, the system just cranked right on that without finding maybe this person was so disabled or so impaired, that maybe the death penalty was not appropriate. >> yeah, you know, in so many case, we see -- we see the prosecutors being overly aggressive, sometimes in terms even of misconduct, and at the same time, we see kind of an inept defense opposition.
in this case, they really didn't -- they didn't produce what we call mitigating evidence. the evidence that would have led a reasonable juror to say he's not the worse of the worse. he's just too mentally ill to give a death sentence to. the lawyers did not do that. they did not challenge his competency for trial, clearly very very incompetent man. it that's combination. and then after, after putting these three jurors on the jury, who were against mixed marriage, the prosecutor gets up at the end of the trial and talks about the white witnesses who testified on andre thomas's behalf, the prosecutor basically said would you want your daughter or granddaughter dating mr. thomas? kind of an overcry to racism,
very much like a case that you argued in front of the supreme court, steve, with the prosecutor that identified the case as the o.j. simpson case, if i'm not mistaken. >> right, right. >> very similar, yeah. >> well, you talk about a lot of lawyering in the book. one other i thought maybe we would talk a little bit about is andy [inaudible] who tried -- i mean there's some real sad cases in this book, some tragic cases like robert halsey, one we will talk about who ended up with a death sentence there, some people were innocent. we'll get to those in a minute. when we're talking about people not having adequate lawyers, robert halsey's case is a deeply disturbing case. >> yeah. it's really -- it's really remarkable. i start the essay by asking how many people know just how much a quart of vodka is because you just -- you tend not to measure
alcohol in that way. this man andy prince whose life was falling apart all around him was drinking a quarter of vodka a night during this capital trial. it is a miracle he found his way to court frankly. he's drinking a quart of vodka a night. a man's life, robert halsey's life is in his hands, and, you know, he did a predictably awful job. there's no other way around it. >> one other thing he might have been drinking because he was under so much pressure on the case, but as you said, he had a lot of other things. his life was falling apart. he was about to be indicted and disbarred for stealing client funds and ultimately was disbarred and indicted. >> so, you know what's particularly interesting about that case, and steve, i'm going to implicate you again in this because there's a part, you
know, after mr. halsey goes to death row, lawyers go and speak to the jurors, and the jurors are instructed not only -- you don't have to talk to the defense lawyers, but you shouldn't talk to them which i think is really a problem. anyway, one of the jurors felt that it was in fact improper. he speaks to his defense and what he says is fascinating to me. he says he was on a prior jury by coincidence, this is a georgia case, it was one of your juries, and he says that in your case, there was a lot of mitigating evidence that was presented, and that made it clear to him that your client, mr. brooks was not one of the worst. but then he went and sat as a juror in the halsey case, didn't see that evidence, that mr. prince did not present that evidence, and so this juror was left to the conclusion that
halsey must be the worst of the worst because that evidence wasn't presented. you know, in an ironic way, you know, great lawyering led to that death sentence because prince didn't produce the evidence you guys had produced in that earlier case. very very sad outcome. >> very sad case, in the process [inaudible] said that lawyer couldn't possibly have tried this case properly. as i recall, it was a 2 to 1 decision, the judge pointed out that halsey was intellectually limited, and that at his house, the abuse and the mistreatment of the children in his house that he grew up in was so bad that the neighbors called the house the torture chamber, yet the jury didn't hear any of that evidence. robert halsey was executed. and andre thomas is only one
step away from execution. just lost his case in the court of appeals >> you know, the amazing thing about these cases, and i found this every time i started to write an essay, there's always more injustice that you start out thinking. i mean, you look at halsey's case, and you might think it's just about a lawyer who was drinking a quart of vodka a night, i say just, that's ordinarily enough. but what goes unfounded by that lawyer is what you just said. i mean, every one of these cases, you know, compounds into injustice. the one thing that i think is really important for people to understand is -- and i say this in the book, this is the tip of the iceberg. it is not that these cases are the ib credible rarities and -- incredible rarities and the
average cases being handled improperly, these cases are typical. they are average. they are not the unusual case. very important for people to keep that in mind, i think. hard to believe. >> what other lawyer you wrote about that i know quite well or knew quite well is johnny moscow who also had a client sentenced to death and also had a client executed >> yep, and you know, well-known lawyer in georgia. you know, he's -- the case is about a racist juror who says -- who uses the n word when he's explaining why he returned a death sentence. pretty outrageous, you know, racist comment, obviously. but as it turns out, the lawyer for the man who was executed, he's a racist also. and everybody knows he's a
racist. and so, you know, there are quotes in the essay from lawyers who are listening to that lawyer kind of shoot his mouth off, in a very racist way, and then there are clients of his who come forward and say that he used racist language towards them as well. so, you know, it's circle after circle. i mean, it is like peeling an onion. you never get to the bottom of it. and, you know, that lawyer, as i understand it, was a man who attracted attention to himself, drove a fancy crazy car with a big horn -- big horns on the front, just a guy who was looking for attention every minute, but really -- >> he was a very powerful character. he dressed sort of like a cowboy, wore a cowboy hat, had a moustache. you never forgot him once you had seen him. but he was very flamboyant but
sort of flamboyantly terrible. he handled a huge amount of cases, handled more cases than any lawyer could ever handle. a couple weeks ago a federal court in atlanta set aside a death penalty case, one of his other clients, just this case, the court saw it a little bit differently and kept him from being executed >> yep. you know, again, the racism in this case with the lawyer, with the juror, really, if there's one thing that permeates in the book, it's the kind of endemic racism in the criminal justice system, and again, steve, i quote you in in there somewhere that the last place the civil rights movement has reached is our courtrooms, our criminal justice courtrooms. every case has some aspect of racism to it almost.
>> while we're talk about that, i want to ask you about the judge in texas, cunningham who presided a case, and most of those people were executed but one was not. >> yeah, a couple are still alive, and one of them is randy halpern who i do write about. halpern is jewish, and judge cunningham, no longer judge cunningham, thankfully, was overtly antisemitic, overtly racist, and overtly homophobic. he put his money in a trust for his kids. they only got the money if they married opposite sex, same race, and same religion. i think i've got that right. >> right, right. >> pretty overtly racist guy,
and so cunningham is presiding over this case, with a jewish man, halpern, and he's saying all sorts of anti semitic stuff, and the painful part of this story is that everybody surrounding him knew that he was a racist. they knew he was an anti-semite. he didn't make any bones about it. he's a classic white supremacist, and nobody says a word. so it doesn't come out until he's running for office, and i guess it's his brother who kind of leaks the story because they don't want him elected to this commissioner's job, but meanwhile, for years, he's presiding over cases, and no one's -- his clerks, his secretary, his family, no one's saying a word. very disheartening. >> i would like to speak about
another prosecutor [inaudible] in the williams case, terry williams. that's a fascinating case. took place over a long period of time. >> well, terry's case, you know, again, these cases never just have one aspect to them. for starters, the commonwealth of pennsylvania is seeking the death penalty against him. terry commits two accused murders. i will say accused because i want to explain why in a minute. he's accused of two murders, one when he's 17. the second when he's just 18. in both cases, he's -- he was sexually abused since around the age of 13, by these middle aged men, so you would think just there you wouldn't seek the death penalty. he's very young, barely eligible
for death, victimized by his -- by the victims in his cases, so the first case, the first case, the sexual abuse comes out in a limited way, and the jury comes back third degree murder, not first degree murder. he's not eligible for death. in the second case, the prosecutor has basically learned her lesson. she realizes that the sexual aspect of the case will not allow for a death verdict, so she -- in my opinion, she denies this, but in my opinion, she hides evidence of the sexual abuse. the lawyer is just meeting terry for the first time, a day or two before, so now you've got prosecutor misconduct. you've got a lawyer, you know, lawyer ineptitude for lack of a better word, and it's only decades later that it's revealed
that the second victim was also a sexual abuser of terry williams. the evidence comes out. and the matter is stayed. the execution is put off. but ron castille, who is -- he's the d.a. at the time these decisions are being made initially. he's the head d.a. initially. the case -- >> [inaudible] >> the case goes to the united states supreme court because the claim is castille cannot be presiding as a supreme court chief justice over a case that he was also the prosecutor on, not the actual prosecutor, but the head prosecutor. it goes to the united states supreme court. the united states supreme court says, you know, wait one second. this is a conflict. you can't be a prosecutor and a
judge. so terry williams gets a reprieve. the third degree case gets dismissed. that's a whole story in itself because of prosecutorial misconduct, basically. and he's now fighting the second case for which he's serving a life sentence right now. so that's just an ongoing saga. again it's a combination of overly aggressive prosecution, inept defense, and judges that are either looking the other way or just staying out of it entirely. >> and just to be clear on that, castille was the chief district attorney. he was the district attorney. he approved seeking the death penalty. he had to give the go ahead for that. >> that's exactly right. >> later he was the chief justice on the pennsylvania supreme court, and he's still deciding that case even though he had made a critical decision in it. >> to add to this, that we have elections in pennsylvania for
the supreme court and all judges, and he ran for the supreme court advertising that he had obtained 45 death sentences as the head prosecutor in philadelphia. he basically ran with that as a platform on his ticket. so the supreme court says that was a bridge too far. >> i would like for you to talk about some of these innocent cases that you cover in the book. some of them are not very happy ending cases because people spend a lot of time in prison for crimes they didn't do, on death row for crimes they didn't do. one that struck me particularly, you described a case where they had four people all guilty of a crime that was only committed by two people. they had to deal with that in some way. they convicted these two people, under a death sentence for one period of time and then they
found two other people who were actually the people who committed the crime. >> so this is a fascinating case. let me just say this, we don't have too many happy stories in our world. >> right. >> best of all cases, someone ends up getting out of prison after a long period of time. in this case, these two guys that get convicted, they both confess to a detective, and then one of them takes a long sentence and then testifies against the other one, but then 20 years later, it turns out that they are both innocent, and the reason we know this is because my client comes along, my client's now deceased -- my client comes along, they pick him up on a cold case because his fingerprint matches a
murder. he then confesses to a whole bunch of other murders, and one of them is this case. so an investigation occurs, and everybody understands this these two people are innocent, but think about what the death penalty did there. they were both scared of getting the death penalty. they both confessed to a crime they didn't commit, and then one of them actually testified and both of them -- both men low functioning. one almost certainly intellectually disabled. the other one just plainly low functioning. and they were scared about a possible death sentence. >> that's something i think people, you know, just have a hard time understanding is that somebody in this case not only confessed to a crime they didn't commit, and we know that clearly, because somebody else did it, but they pled guilty to a crime they didn't commit and then testified against their friend, actually, that they had
committed it. >> yeah. i think false confessions is such a counterintuitive part of our world. you know, you ask people, and they will tell you that they believe in false confessions, but they also will tell you they would never do it themselves. they would never confess falsely to an awful crime. and yet we know it happens all the time. i mean, the central park five, there's, you know, many many cases where people have confessed under horrible coercion or at least the police claim they confessed, and it turns out because of dna or something else that they were clearly innocent. i mean, it's a remarkable kind of psychological effect, and the death penalty plays a big role in that. people are scared that things might be worse. >> there are other stories
including one about the immigrant in florida who was convicted and sentenced to death and now is still under some question whether he's going to be removed or not; right? >> yeah, mr. clemente aguirre, you know, he found himself in a very difficult situation. and the reason he didn't explain -- he basically walked into a crime scene and then left his dna, you know -- his footprints and so forth at the crime scene, was afraid to explain why because he feared he would be deported. and then of course ended up getting a death sentence and many years in prison, and, you know, the evidence that he was innocent kind of, you know, it is like hemmingway said about
bankruptcy, happens slowly and then quickly, something like that. i'm probably misquoting hemmingway at this point, but that's what happened in this case. you know, the evidence started to become more and more clear, and then at some point it was an avalanche of evidence that he was innocent, and yet the prosecutor still couldn't bring himself to admit that mistakes had been made, as they say, and there was a very aggressive judge who didn't want to hear it. she had her own troubles because he kept, you know, obsessively getting speeding tickets. it is a crazy world out there, and some people just shouldn't be handling capital punishment cases >> that's a fascinating case. i think people will enjoy reading that chapter and seeing how all that -- how that went wrong so badly and then fortunately for him, things sort of came together. one case that end so well is the
woman who was sentenced to death in oklahoma. you talk about there what the prosecution did to overcome any reluctance that the jury had to sentence her to death. >> yeah, you know, i want to read what that judge -- what a judge on the oklahoma supreme court said. she's still on death row in oklahoma, the only woman on death row in oklahoma. and the essay's called shamed to death, and the prosecutor spent most of his time kind of shaming brenda andrew. it was not so much about the crime as about her behavior. one of the oklahoma supreme court justices said this "in light of my experience -- i'm sorry, i've got the wrong page here. let me get the right one. the first stage of this capital
murder trial is rife with error. that error at its most egregious includes a pattern of introducing evidence that has no purpose other than to hammer home that brenda andrew is a bad wife, a bad mother, and a bad woman. the jury was allowed to consider such evidence in violation of the fundamental rule that a defendant must be convicted, if at all, of the crime charged and not of being a bad woman. in this case, you know, the prosecutor spent his whole time just talking about her -- what he perceived as her moral shortcomings. and that's really what put her on death row, in a case that ordinarily, you know, wouldn't merit that. >> right, right. >> yeah. >> very last chapter, a little different than the other chapters. >> yes, it's the only -- the only autobiography -- you know, i wrote a lot of short stories
before i started writing these essays. you know, when i look at all of them, this is the only autobiography piece that i ever wrote, so it is very different because i'm really out of all of the other essays either because i had no role whatsoever or my role wasn't prominent to the story. this is the one autobiography piece. >> what were you telling in that chapter? >> you know, i wanted to give the reader a sense of what kind of being a death penalty lawyer really is all about. the most important thing i kind of wanted to get across is the idea that these cases happen in teams, not individually. there really is no individual in these cases. the cases as i understand them at the highest level are all
practiced in teams, and so i kind of -- i wanted to lay out, you know, the kind of roller coaster that a capital -- that a capital case can be for, you know, a competent defense team. it was an interesting one for me to write because that case -- that case, you know -- i've lost a lot of hair in my day, and that case certainly didn't help any, put it that way. >> very good. you talk a lot of times here two people and how the cases come up differently. a couple of cases in florida you write about tom ferguson and beaufort white. beaufort white, the jury unanimously sentenced him to life in prison but [inaudible]. >> yeah, pretty amazing, so that case is fascinating for any number of reasons.
one, that a man was executed. he was also executed 30 years before a much more guilty person in the same case got executed because of his mental illness and so forth. so beaufort white who, you know, he got a [inaudible] and rightly so because he was not involved in the murders. it was an awful murder case, so he wasn't really involved. the jury voted 12 month for life, unfortunately, mr. white ran into one of the worst judges of all time from our perspective, a judge named fuller who overrode the jury's intent and he was executed shortly after, in the 1980s. it was like i said 30 years later that one of his codefendants, who was much more involved in the murder, got
executed, but lived 30 years longer. >> of course florida and alabama both have people that could be sentenced to death even if the jury didn't give them the death penalty. that's changed now, but you are right, there are a number of people who still on death row who had jury sentences of life in prison, but the judge overrode it and gave them the death penalty. >> that has come before the united states supreme court a number of times, but they have not stepped in to address it. the idea that judges can still make these decisions, that's still on the books. it hasn't changed, even though there was a chance to. >> as you mentioned a moment ago, that sort of the luck of the draw was the judge you might happen to half, whether it's the judge who does the sentences in this case, or as you were talking about in clemente's case a moment ago, the judge who has the case later on when the
evidence of innocence [inaudible]. >> yeah, i think there's probably something -- i don't need to tell you, but a lot of people might think that the judge is just sitting up there minding his or her own business. often times nothing could be further from the truth. you know, the decision judges make are really [inaudible] the way the case turns out, either pretrial or post conviction. >> if anybody has any questions, we would glad to answer them. mark would be glad to answer them. please type up your questions. someone has written i've heard that as many as a quarter of the people on death row are innocent. is there truth in that? >> yeah, you know, i mean, there's this kind of myth among
death penalty advocates that the system actually works, that when we find an innocent client, you know, even after he's done decades in prison, that shows that the system was working, which of course on its face is absurd. we certainly caught enough innocent clients before execution so that you have to conclude that. so innocent people have been executed -- you have to conclude that some innocent people have been executed. it would be non-mathematical to think otherwise. i can't give the question a number as to how many innocent people there are. i would also like to point out that innocence, you know, can be defined in a lot of different ways. there is the innocence of someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the crime. they were in poughkeepsie at the time, that's one kind of
innocence. there's also innocence of not being guilty of the highest crime possible. there's also innocence of not deserving the death penalty, but getting the death penalty. so i can't quantify the number of truly innocent, but there's enough innocent people in those categories to make us stop and think that this is just a failed government program. >> a very good question. i just graduated from law school, someone writes, and will be working on capital cases in florida. how have you managed to stay in this field for so long? do you have any advice about avoiding burnout? >> yeah, you know, i always tell people that this job, if it is right for you is the greatest job in the world. you know, i never once looked at the clock on a working day and
wished it was later, never. i always wanted it to be earlier so i could get more done. the job itself is phenomenal if it's right for you. but if it's not right for you, there's so much other good work out there. you know, there's discrimination work. there's, you know, landlord tenant work. there's a million types of -- union work, just a million types of good things people can do. burnout was never a problem for me because i love the work. it's huge stress and nerves, but not burnout. i think if you just respect your clients and recognize the human frailty that's involved for all of us, then burnout is not a problem, but i will also say this, for years i was encouraging young lawyers to go into another field because i was so optimti be done with the death penalty. i was naively optimistic about
it. it's only recently with some recent disappointing elections, 2016 in particular, that lead me to think we need a new generation of people to come along and kind of close the door on this kind of outrageous policy. that's the best i can tell you. >> another question, so many of these problems seem to happen in philadelphia or pennsylvania. why is that? we also talked about oklahoma, georgia, texas, several texas cases. >> but i'm not going to lie. philadelphia is like a petrie dish for misconduct to some extent. you know, there's a reason for it. the reason is that philadelphia never took the death penalty seriously, so they paid a minuscule amount of money to untrained and unresourced court-appointed lawyers, and then we had a series of overly aggressive prosecutors.
so you combine that, and you have death sentence after death sentence, and then each one gets overturned because of the bad lawyer and because of the overly aggressive prosecution. i keep saying overly aggressive. prosecutorial misconduct, we should say what it is. there was a study done, an interesting rand study that -- it looked at the cases handled by the philadelphia public defender, from 1994 to 2005. they took the 20% of the defender cases and the 80% of the court-appointed cases, and there were a lot of cases. they looked at the results, and it turned out that if you were represented by a defender, you were 61% less likely to be convicted of first degree murder. you were 19% more likely to be acquitted. and overall, your sentence was
24% less. and that really burst a bubble because i think we would like to think that lawyering shouldn't really matter. at that level the case should speak for itself one way or the other, but in fact lawyering matters a huge amount, and that's disspiriting, and what it really shows is that we have to fund quality lawyering, like virginia did. we have to do that, in order to avoid the injustice that we see over and over and over again, in philadelphia and other places. >> i might just add one thing about pennsylvania. i think pennsylvania is still the only state where all of the funding of lawyers for poor people accused of crimes is up to the county, so there's no state-funded public defender system like in colorado, for example, you have a very well-funded public defender -- new jersey, other states, very
well funded, and we talked about virginia a few moments ago. in virginia there are regional capital defender office so that people didn't get this kind of terrible representation that we've been talking about. virginia no longer has the death penalty. why is the book titled "a descending spiral"? >> those with records from a famous quote by martin luther king. i don't want to misquote it. it's at the beginning of the book. the ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral to getting the very thing it speaks to destroy. so, you know, for me, i mean those words are obviously very very powerful, and that's the way i see the death penalty. i see capital punishment as a descending spiral. we're trying to get rid of violence, and all we're doing is creating more violence, not a
working policy. >> another question is, what can people without law degrees -- how can they get involved? what can they do? >> well, so, you know, i mean, the truth is -- i mean, there's a lot of answers to that question. you know, not everybody on the team i was talking about how important teams are, in capital defenses, not everyone on the team is a lawyer, thank god frankly. you know, mitigation specialists, the ones that are doing the investigation into what a -- a person's background so that information can get presented to a jury. that's an incredibly important aspect of the team. and there are paralegals, and there are investigators. so in that regard, you know, the whole team is not just lawyers. but aside from that, you know, for me, i think the biggest problem with the death penalty is that there were still politicians and still
prosecutors who think that this is more popular policy than it is. it's not. when you ask people about the death penalty, the polls usually show that it is -- the polls are low, but usually show 55% or so people favor the death penalty. that's the wrong question. the right question is what do you prefer after you've convicted someone of first degree murder, which is how you become eligible for the death penalty? do you prefer a death sentence, or do you prefer life without parole, with restitution to the victims? and when you ask that question, the majority of people don't favor the death penalty. they favor a sentence of life without parole or life with parole. so, you know, the best thing we can do is persuade our politicians and our prosecutors that the death penalty doesn't have the cache that it used to have, that you are not going to lose votes if you are opposed to the death penalty. that to me is the most important thing we can get across.
>> just one thing to put the death penalty in perspective, in the mid 90s, we had as many 300 people being sentenced to death in courts all across the country. in the last few years, it's been less than 40. so there's been an incredible decline in the number of death sentences being imposed, and at one time, there were 38 states that had the death penalty. now it's down to 27. so we have seen more and more states, virginia, colorado, new hampshire, other states that repealed their death penalty laws. but with regard to your last comment, i follow up asking this, philadelphia's one place where we've had a progressive prosecutor elected. this has happened in other places around the country. and what is your perspective on what the impact that has had on criminal justice in general and the death penalty in particular?
>> so he by coincidence is facing a primary today in the challenge, you know, he said something that i really love, he said he got tired of lighting money on fire. that's the way he saw the death penalty. we haven't -- you know, in pennsylvania, we haven't had an involuntary execution -- involuntary, we executed three people who wanted to be executed in the 90s. we haven't had involuntary execution since 1962. so he says, you know, why are we throwing away money on -- you know, we're getting nothing for it at all, except the injustice, i think, so he stopped -- he basically stopped the death penalty in philadelphia. and he's had a real -- he has a real conviction integrity unit. that unit has done phenomenal work in getting people out of
prison who are innocent and also people who are just, you know, unfairly sentenced to wait longer than they should be. we have a lieutenant governor who is pushing hard for commutations. john fedderman who is now running for senator. so he's done a world of good, i think. but like any reformer, who is bringing about major change, you know, there is an establishment pushback. i'm not a star wars fan, but i was saying to you earlier, you know, it is the empire strikes back, so he's doing his best. you know, philadelphia came from a place where we were regressive for years and years and then a progressive person came in. so it wasn't a steady line of progress. he came in and shook up the equation. so there's pushback, but i think he's really standing his ground
we're all very very proud of the job he's done. >> are there other things that you would like as we wrap up here just to say with regard to the book or with regard to the issue of the death penalty? >> you know, i mean, i'm really optimistic about the -- i'm really optimistic about the end of the death penalty. it's just, you know, we've kept our head in the sand, but you pointed out, steve, it is not just the death sentences are going down, executions are dramatically going down as well. >> right. >> went from 99 to i don't know how many, you know, this year was a pandemic year, but even before that, we're under 40. so, you know, all signs indicate a decrease, and i think that, you know, people might point to the 70s where -- the 60s we were against the death penalty, and then public opinion changed.
i think what's different now is that -- and thurgood marshall was talking about how uninformed people were back then, we're more informed now because of situations like this, and, you know, hundreds and hundreds of forums, we know now about human frailty because of dna. we know about false confessions. we know more about mistakes and prosecutorial misconduct and bad lawyering. all those things together add up to jurors who are more informed and even prosecutors who are more informed. i'm optimistic in that regard, and i think -- i think we are seeing the end of it. as for the book, i just -- it's important -- i want to say this again. these cases are not isolated. they're typical. that's -- you know, if the reader comes away with anything
at all, you know, i didn't write about the o.j. simpson case or the scott peterson case or some high-profile cases. i really kind of studiously avoided those high-profile cases because i think the real point here is that these are the typical cases, and if we're going to have this kind of a policy, this is the consequence to that. the only other thing i want to say is it sounds like our job is so grim. there is some humor to our job. we're able to see hope and joy when things do get rectified and strength and -- so it's not all grim horror. it's a great job, and i would like to see the -- the atlantic center's slogan is trying to put us out of business since 2010.
that's something i would really like to see. our website is atlantic center.org, if people are really interested. we would love to have you. we would love to have you visit. we're supported by the kindness of strangers as tennessee williams would say. >> this book is extraordinarily valuable of telling people about the cases, like mark just said, not the ones that have been in the news, not the ones that we all know about, but about what's happening day in and day out in trial courts all over the country and appellate courts, what prosecutors are doing, what kind of lawyers people are getting that are accused of crimes, where the process breaks down, you know, the enormity of taking a human being's life -- once a person has been executed. we have people in texas like todd willingham, and carlos hernandez and other people where pretty clear innocent people have been put to death, and when you look at things like mental
illness and other issues that are covered so well in this book, i think it gives one a real broad perspective on the death penalty and raises all the important issues with regard to it. so mark, thank you. thank all of you for joining us tonight. and thanks to the harvard bookstore for having us. >> thank you, steve. not only for tonight, but for all the work you have done for decades. you're a real icon in our community, and i didn't get much of chance to say that. i actually put steve's name in the acknowledgments. you know, he's just been a real role model to many of us. so we appreciate having this tonight. >> thank you. >> thank you both for being her >> thank you both for being here tonight and having this important conversation at harvard book store and thank you kind words about the bookstore. i want to think everyone out there for spending the evening with us.
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