This is Scott Turow's latest book, a piece of nonfiction recounting the evolution of his position on the death penalty. He has come to believe that it can never be made fair and accurate enough to warrant its use. In this excerpt from an interview with Terry McNally, Mr. Turrow explains how since the death penalty is reserved for the most heinous crimes and since emotions run high in those instances, that these may be the cases most prone to errors in investigations, prosecutions and convictions.
McNally: I think at this point the number is at least 108 freed by DNA evidence. You actually think it's easier to make certain errors in the cases where it's most serious. Why?'nough said.
Turow: Because if you talk about the worst of the worst, the most hideous crimes – John Wayne Gacey in Illinois who killed 33 young men, serial murder, or Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City – these are the crimes that create the greatest anxiety and passion in the community. It's because of those anxieties that law enforcement wants to settle them. Still, it's very easy for police and prosecutors to try to force their evidence to fit the wrong foot.
It's also very easy for juries confronted with a monstrous crime to essentially take the approach: "I'm not letting this guy go unless somebody proves to me he didn't do it." Even though that is exactly contradictory to what we're supposed to do in our system.
McNally: So both prosecutors and juries would like a conviction.
Turow: Right, everybody wants to feel that the world has been put back to order. It's a natural human impulse, it's not corrupted. The police want to protect us, prosecutors want to protect us, but...
I'm not proposing by the way, that most of the people in death row in the United States are innocent. I don't think that that's remotely true. The point, though, is that this is a system designed to be nearly fault-free. And guess what? It's not.