Angel of Death Row, by Andrea D. Lyon
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.