Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty

Crown. Jan. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9781524760267. $28. SOC SCI
Chammah, staff writer for The Marshall Project, uses Texas (which led the nation in the number of executions in the last decades of the 20th century) as the focus of his history of the death penalty in the United States. He weaves personal stories in with deft legal and political analysis of criminal trials and state court and Supreme Court rulings. In addition to riveting profiles of death-row inmates, the book focuses on the lives of lawyers, such as Anthony Amsterdam, Craig Washington, and Steven Reis, who devote their careers to fighting against the death penalty. Two fascinating women are also highlighted in this narrative: Danalynn Recer, who began her career with the Texas Resource Center, and Elsa Alcala, a prosecutor who became a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Their changing views on capital punishment mirror the changes that were happening throughout the country. Chammah also examines how several high-profile Texas executions, especially that of Karla Faye Tucker in 1998, factored into George W. Bush’s campaign for the presidency in 2000. In the epilogue, he discusses recent shifts on the U. S. Supreme Court regarding the death penalty.
VERDICT A readable, well-documented legal history that will appeal to a broad audience.
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