| Few issues in American politics stir as much passion as the death penalty. Yet the question of whether to put someone to death is far more complicated and nuanced than is often portrayed in the media.
A groundbreaking new book by Suffolk University Law Professor Russell G. Murphy explores all aspects of capital punishment by including not only the views of experts, lawyers and public policy-makers, but also voices that are usually not heard in the debate – those of ordinary citizens. Voices of the Death Penalty Debate: A Citizen’s Guide to Capital Punishment (Vandeplas Publishing, 2010) both educates and challenges readers. Grounded in fact and yet filled with emotional arguments, Voices of the Death Penalty Debate is a much-needed addition to the public discourse on this volatile topic. Even those firmly convinced of their position for or against capital punishment will find themselves challenged by the arguments laid out in Voices.
That’s because Murphy isn’t necessarily aiming to change opinions; rather he seeks to ensure that the public takes a position after thorough consideration. “I want readers of the book to form an opinion about capital punishment that is informed by accurate information,” Murphy says. “Voices is carefully and specifically designed to be a book that educates rather than advocates.”
Please consider a review of this important book or an interview with Professor Murphy. See a description and podcast on the Suffolk Law School Web site.
Murphy comes to the topic after nearly 40 years as a legal teacher, law school administrator and scholar. Since 1974, he has taught courses in criminal law, civil procedure, federal courts and constitutional law and has published on such diverse topics as international human rights, punitive damages and admiralty law of treasure hunting.
Professor Murphy has been personally touched by the question of capital punishment. In 1998, the sister of a close friend was murdered by her husband. Jeffrey Cahill was convicted of killing his wife Jill, but his original death sentence was overturned, and he was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. As a friend, Murphy advised the family on legal issues and later drafted proposed legislation that would correct what many considered a flawed interpretation of New York’s first-degree murder statute that formed the basis for Cahill’s resentencing.
Murphy was asked to testify during hearings in 2004 and 2005 called by the New York State Assembly on whether the death penalty should be reinstated in New York. There, he was astounded at the depth and breadth of the testimony from more than 170 witnesses – people who ranged from the relatives of murder victims to former Death Row inmates later exonerated. Other witnesses included Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, Robert Meeropol, son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and Bianca Jagger, former wife of the Rolling Stones star, who described the execution of a man she believed to be innocent. Some, like Robert Blecker of New York Law School, eloquently laid out the case for the death penalty. Others, such as Bud Welch, who lost family in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, spoke of the power of reconciliation.
Murphy compiled high points of the hearings to write Voices of the Death Penalty Debate, while adding chapters on facts, figures and other background material. He notes, for example, that more than 65 percent of Americans support the death penalty; nine death row inmates were released from prison in 2009; and, the United States is consistently ranked among the world’s top five executing countries. He purposely avoids technical data, lengthy footnotes, and legalese. Indirectly, he asks the reader, “Are you sure about what you believe?”
The result is a thought-provoking book that can be used in classrooms ranging from high schools to law schools. Murphy eloquently explores the complexities of this difficult issue in a measured and yet moving style.
“On a matter that is literally one of life and death, a citizen should be able to give reasons for supporting or opposing capital punishment,” Murphy says. “Anyone who reads this book will be able to do so.”
To request a copy of Voices of the Death Penalty Debate: A Citizen’s Guide to Capital Punishment, or to arrange an interview or appearance by Professor Murphy, please contact Greg Gatlin, 617-573-8428, email@example.com or Mariellen Norris, 617-573-8450, firstname.lastname@example.org.