Controversy rages about capital punishment as innocent men and women are being released from death rows all over the country. Are innocent people being executed? Is capital punishment justice or is it revenge?
Into the debate steps Mark Fuhrman, America's most famous detective, and no stranger to controversy himself.
Fuhrman seeks to answer these questions by investigating the death penalty in Oklahoma, where a "hang 'em high" attitude of cowboy justice resulted in twenty–one executions in 2001, more than any other state. Most of these cases came from one jurisdiction, Oklahoma County, where legendary DA Bob Macy bragged of sending more people to death row than any other prosecutor, and police chemist Joyce Gilchrist was eventually fired for mismanaging the crime lab. Examining police records, trial transcripts, appellate decisions and conducting hundreds of interviews, Fuhrman focuses his considerable investigative skills on more than a dozen of the most controversial Oklahoma death penalty cases.
Former LAPD detective Fuhrman (Murder in Brentwood and Murder in Spokane) may not be an elegant stylist, but his latest book is a serious and alarming investigation of legal misconduct on a massive scale. In 2001, Oklahoma executed 21 death row inmates more than any other state in the country and 13 had been convicted by the same Oklahoma County district attorney, Bob Macy. Fuhrman sets the stage: A barrel-chested cowboy whose good-ol'-boy brand of frontier politics and hard-line stance on the death penalty earned him a handful of enemies but many more powerful friends, Macy aggressively pushed for the death penalty in cases that other prosecutors would likely never have brought to trial. And his political influence and tearfully delivered closing arguments led to victory more often than not. Supporting Macy in his self-righteous campaign against crime was Joyce Gilchrist, director of the Oklahoma City Police Department crime lab. Often scolded for indiscretions but never strongly questioned, Gilchrist, Fuhrman explains, flagrantly mismanaged the crime lab for nearly two decades and routinely gave false and misleading testimony under oath (testimony that led to several death penalty convictions). When the cumulative effects of Gilchrist's incompetence and a federal investigation finally threatened to erupt into a national scandal, potentially damaging evidence against her was found to be either conveniently missing or prematurely destroyed. Fuhrman stops short of calling Oklahoma's problems a conspiracy, but he does show that they are endemic not only to Oklahoma but also to our entire criminal justice system. While his discussions of the ethical complexities of executions are unsophisticated, Fuhrman's book makes for an engrossing read.