Books about the death penalty in German
Just mercy: police violence and judicial arbitrariness in the U.S
by Bryan Stevenson, 2015
America’s advocate for the poor and lawless recounts his shocking cases: 13-year-old children forced to spend years in solitary confinement, arbitrary arrests and racial prejudice by police and the judiciary, or people with mental illness vegetating in prison for decades: These stories are everyday life in the United States.
Charismatic lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who also knows pervasive racism well from his own experience, gives voice to these harrowing cases from America’s courtrooms and death rows.
He represents people who receive no legal representation, or only pro forma representation. The cases read almost like a thriller as he fights to get innocent people off death row. It’s a necessary book that denounces the racism of a society and the failures of a criminal justice system – and provides frightening insights into American society.
Bryan Stevenson is co-founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama. The private non-profit organization legally advocates for indigent defendants, as well as convicts who are denied fair and equitable treatment in the legal system.
For more information, visit: www.eji.org
Under the “Movies” section, you can find the trailer for the feature film “Just Mercy,” which was based on the book.
A life stolen: 23 years innocent on death row
The case of Debra Milke
by Jana Bommersbach, 2016
An American nightmare: Debra Milke was sentenced to death and served 23 years innocent in prison. She was accused of ordering the murder of her son. She was acquitted in spring 2015 and now has her story told by Jana Bommersbach.
On December 2, 1989, Debra Milke’s four-year-old son Christopher disappeared without a trace. He was on his way to a shopping mall with an acquaintance to see Santa Claus. The terrible news soon follows: Christopher’s body has been found in the Arizona desert. For German-born Debra Milke, a nightmare begins that will destroy her life: Although there is no evidence against her, she is sentenced to death by a US court for the murder of her son. The investigator had claimed that she had confessed to the crime. For years, Debra Milke fights for her freedom from death row until the wrongful conviction is finally overturned.
When the State Kills: A History of the Death penalty
by Helmut Ortner, 2017
The history of state killing is a moral picture that provides information about the moral mentality of a society. It is about the death penalty. It is about retribution. At all times and in almost every human society, people have been killed with state legitimation, even beyond the battlefields.
Laws, execution methods and execution stagings have changed, what has remained is the belief of doing something “just”. Helmut Ortner describes the rituals of retribution: stoning, crucifixion, gallows, guillotine, electric chair, gas chamber up to the “civilized” lethal injection: The history of state killing is always also a history of reform. If the focus is on the American legal system in particular, it is because the United States is the only Western democracy that still retains the death penalty today. Here it becomes particularly visible that state killing of people is not only an instrument of criminal law, but always also an expression of the social order and its world views. Ortner’s book is a plea to move away from a culture of retribution toward a humane civil society.
The book is a revised version of the 2013 work “The Book of Killing: On the Death Penalty” by the same author. Currently, it has been republished in 2020 under the title “Without Mercy: A History of the Death Penalty.”
Dead Man Walking – His Last Walk
by Sister Helen Prejean, 1996
Sister Helen Prejean, a nun of the order ‘Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille’ began a pen-pal relationship in 1981 with Patrick Sonnier, who was on Louisiana’s death row for double murder. At Sonnier’s request, she became his spiritual advisor and accompanied him until his execution.
The book Dead Man Walking provided the template for the Oscar-winning film of the same name, which combined two criminal cases into one. It was also the template for the opera of the same name, which premiered in San Francisco in 2000.
Dead Man Walking is the classic film par excellence and Helen Prejean is still a committed activist against the death penalty in the U.S. and worldwide.
Other German language books on the death penalty:
The Execution Industry in the USA
by Stephen Trombley, 1993
This book is not a moral treatise on the pros and cons of the death penalty. Rather, it shows the horrible practice, the perfectionism of killing, and the psyche of those who do it. And it shows what it means to wait to die.
In the United States, more than 2,500 people were sentenced to death by the early 1990s. They were hanged, shot, died in the electric chair, in gas chambers or by injection. Executions are carried out by a team of experts who, equipped with the blessing of the highest courts, kill deliberately and following an elaborate plan.
Stephen Trombley had access to the Potosi Penitentiary in Missouri, one of the most modern and highly secured prisons in the U.S., housing only prisoners serving life sentences or sentenced to death.
“My research took me through an America you don’t normally see, a kind of underworld where men wait to die. This odyssey began in a dusty basement in Massachusetts, where injection machines and electric chairs are designed and manufactured. It ends in Missouri, where I spent weeks talking with everyone on the execution team and witnessing their daily lives. I also spent hundreds of hours talking to the prisoners. Some were mass murderers, some hired killers. Some had tortured their victims before killing them. Some would not have been sentenced to death by another court. All these men, prisoners and officers, had one thing in common: They had killed.”
An Eye for an Eye
Death penalty in the U.S.A.
by Silke Porath and Matthias Wippich (editors), 2006
‘How does it feel when you know they’re going to kill you?’ This book provides human insights into American death rows and lets prisoners have their say. “Eye for an Eye – Death Penalty in the USA” contains reports from members of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, who have entered into friendships – some of them very intense over many years – with death row inmates and have tried to bring some warmth and humanity into the inhumane everyday life of death row inmates and have finally accompanied them on their last difficult journey.
I Was a Victim of ‘Dead Man Walking’
by Debbie Morris and Gregg Lewis, 1999
Debbie Morris was raped as a 16-year-old by the very Robert Willie, her then-boyfriend nearly beaten to death, whom Sister Helen Prejean accompanied as a second death row inmate until his execution.
Debbie Morris writes from the victim’s perspective, which makes the book especially worth reading for death penalty opponents, who are so readily accused of forgetting the victims. It becomes clear that the execution of the perpetrator did not bring the author any real peace; the description of her encounter with Helen Prejean is interesting. This is a very moving and impressive book, which – although published by a Christian book publisher – does not have a religious side that is obtrusive in an unpleasant way. The fact that Debbie Morris expresses at the end that she does not know whether capital punishment is right or not perhaps makes the book more credible against her particular background than an outright no to capital punishment.
The Last Hours: Reports from Death Row
by Carroll Pickett, 2004
This is the German translation of the autobiography of Pastor Carroll Pickett – he was prison pastor of the “Walls Unit” in Huntsville, Texas, for 15 years, during which time he accompanied nearly one hundred inmates in their last hours until their execution. Pickett, an avowed opponent of the death penalty after his retirement, not only recounts his eventful life in his book, but allows the reader a glimpse right into the heart of the death penalty, still the ultimate in the United States and Texas.
How I Escaped North Korea. A Report from Hell
by Hyeonseo Lee with David John, 2017
A long road to freedom. Hyeonseo Lee was born in North Korea, the country from which virtually no news reaches the outside world. When she was seven years old, she witnessed a public execution for the first time.
She often sees corpses floating in the border river with China, people whose escape to a better life failed. As a teenager, Hyeonseo secretly sneaks across the border into China to escape the shackles of the Kim regime at least once – but then her way home is blocked. A dangerous escape begins…
On the Actuality of the Death Penalty
Interdisciplinary and global perspective
by Christian Boulanger, Vera Heyes, Philip Hanfling (editors), 2002
This anthology takes an interdisciplinary and international comparative approach to the question of how different developments can be explained.
For what reasons do some states resist the trend toward abolition of the death penalty, while in others it is considered long overcome? From legal, criminological, political science, cultural sociology, historical and medical perspectives, the influence of history, culture, political system and public opinion on the decision whether the state may kill by court decision and the reality of the death penalty will be discussed. What is the impact of international legal norms and regional integration dynamics? Who are the actors in the abolition process? To what extent can their experiences be transferred to other countries?
Already the first edition of this publication from 1997 became a standard scholarly work on the death penalty. The second edition was completely revised in 2002 and expanded by eleven chapters to three times its original size.
Books on the death penalty in English
How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row
by Anthony Ray Hinton, 2018
A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice, and the power of reading by a man who spent thirty years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.
But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence-full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon-transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.
With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.
An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions
by Helen Prejean,2006
From the author of the national bestseller Dead Man Walking comes a brave and fiercely argued new book that tests the moral edge of the debate on capital punishment: What if we’re executing innocent men?
Two cases in point are Dobie Gillis Williams, an indigent black man with an IQ of 65, and Joseph Roger O’Dell. Both were convicted of murder on flimsy evidence (O’Dell’s principal accuser was a jailhouse informant who later recanted his testimony). Both were executed in spite of numerous appeals. Sister Helen Prejean watched both of them die. As she recounts these men’s cases and takes us through their terrible last moments, Prejean brilliantly dismantles the legal and religious arguments that have been used to justify the death penalty. Riveting, moving, and ultimately damning, The Death of Innocents is a book we dare not ignore.
Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story
by John T. Thorngren, 2017
Pamela Perillo was set to die on March 24, 1996.
Convicted of capital murder in 1980, Pamela sat on Texas’s Death Row awaiting lethal injection. But less than two days before her scheduled execution, she was given a second chance, and in 2000, she was resentenced: from death to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Her first chance at new life had come shortly after her arrest, when Pamela embraced the Christian faith and began bringing her fellow inmates to redemption in Christ.
That’s why although Pamela’s story is one of imprisonment-first by abuse and addiction and ultimately behind the locked doors of the criminal justice system-it’s also a story of hope-of finding a new path in faith, of taking courage from the promise of salvation, and now, of praying for parole in 2019 after nearly forty years of incarceration.
Salvation on Death Row combines true-crime reporting with a powerful spiritual memoir, reminding us that every life is a journey, every person is capable of change, and every individual can make a positive impact on the world.
Death Row Chaplain
Unbelievable True Stories from America’s Most Notorious Prison
by Rev. Earl Smith & Mark Schlabach, 2015
From a former criminal and now chaplain for the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors, comes a riveting, behind-the-bars look at one of America’s most feared prisons: San Quentin. Reverend Earl Smith shares the most important lessons he’s learned from years of helping inmates discover God’s plan for them.
In 1983, twenty-seven-year-old Earl Smith arrived at San Quentin just like everyone thought he would. Labeled as a gang member and criminal from a young age, Smith was expected to do some time, but after a brush with death during a botched drug deal, Smith’s soul was saved and his life path was altered forever.
From that moment on, Smith knew God had an unusual mission for him, and he became the minister to the lost souls sitting on death row. For twenty-three years, Smith played chess with Charles Manson, negotiated truces between rival gangs, and bore witness to the final thoughts of many death row inmates. But most importantly, Smith helped the prisoners of San Quentin find redemption, hope, and to understand that it is still possible to find God’s grace and mercy from behind bars.
Edgy, insightful, and thought provoking, Death Row Chaplain teaches us God’s grace can reach anyone-even the most desperate and lost-and that it’s never too late to turn our lives around.
Living Next Door to the Death House
by Virginia Stem Owens & David Clinton Owens, 2003
When a prisoner on death row is executed, it’s not just the families of the murderer and the victim who feel the effects. The attorneys, the jury, the law enforcement officers, the prison guards, the wardens overseeing the execution, the chaplains and advisors, the technicians “who prepare the syringe and prick the vein” and they all have powerful stories to tell, stories that are woven together in the riveting narrative of “Living Next Door to the Death House.”
Authors Virginia Stem Owens and David Clinton Owens live in Huntsville, Texas, which has earned a reputation as the death penalty capital of the United States. They call Huntsville “a company town,” where the company in question, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, employs almost a quarter of the residents. With so much of the population directly connected to the prison system, the ultimate punishment meted out as often as once a week is always “next door.”
Through candid, compelling interviews with those in Huntsville connected both personally and professionally to the Texas prison system and death row, the authors explore how the steady stream of executions in the town has affected these people and the community at large. As the Owenses show, the ever-present death chamber “reaches out like tentacles to touch the lives of everyone who lives here.” Some of the people they talk to are in favor of the death penalty, some are against it, many are conflicted.
“Living Next Door to the Death House” shows unforgettably the human face of one of the most controversial and hotly debated issues in the United States today.
Executed on a Technicality
Lethal Injustice on America’s Death Row
by David R. Dow, 2005
When David Dow took his first capital case, he supported the death penalty. He changed his position as the men on death row became real people to him, and as he came to witness the profound injustices they endured: from coerced confessions to disconcertingly incompetent lawyers; from racist juries and backward judges to a highly arbitrary death penalty system.
It is these concrete accounts of the people Dow has known and represented that prove the death penalty is consistently unjust, and it’s precisely this fundamental-and lethal-injustice, Dow argues, that should compel us to abandon the system altogether.