Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer One can read this book two ways, preferably both. The second, more interesting, way to read this remarkable book is as a portrait of a country we think we know and may enjoy or even love — of its judicial system, in particular, and its institutional fibre in general. And here is an anatomy of this practice — drawn from long experience, expertise and estimable revulsion. What really matters throughout the book is that this is killing as a matter of procedure.
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Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer One can read this book two ways, preferably both. The second, more interesting, way to read this remarkable book is as a portrait of a country we think we know and may enjoy or even love — of its judicial system, in particular, and its institutional fibre in general. And here is an anatomy of this practice — drawn from long experience, expertise and estimable revulsion.
What really matters throughout the book is that this is killing as a matter of procedure. We are not talking about murder arising from knife crime, gang warfare, lynching bankers or crimes of cruelty and passion — this is the process of what America calls law. It is an empirical study and exposition of that inimitably American blend of apathy and cruelty, of efficiency on one hand, ineptitude on the other.
And, of course, the diktat of money, even in this domain of life and death. As a correspondent in America, I once reported on the failures of an electric chair in Florida that was getting old and did not work very well, called Old Sparky, which took a long time to kill people.
One condemned man writhed for several minutes while sparks and flames encircled his head before being finally released by death — all this watched by his widow. Stafford Smith relates, unsparingly, the barbarism of execution, and the gratuitous, procedural humiliations and cruelties America includes for the hell of it.
It is primarily the story of one case, that of Kris Maharaj , a British citizen tried for and sentenced to death for a murder Stafford Smith convincingly argues he did not commit: of the son of a man, also supposedly murdered by Maharaj, who appeared to have been involved in laundering money for Colombian drug cartels.
Juries in capital cases are vetted on the basis that anyone who in principle disagrees with execution for capital crimes is inadmissible to sit on one.
Jurors receive instructions that they are bounden by the law to decree execution — to do anything else would be an abrogation of its letter and spirit. In this case, two judges, in their wisdom, had serially to be replaced after being arrested, mid-trial — the second for taking a bribe. I like books with long Notes sections. Of course, there are noble exceptions.
But the bottom line is that this is how America administers the law when a human life is at stake. The blurb calls Stafford Smith a "true hero", and he probably is. Not only for his work on death row, but for what he went on to do for those imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. But the death penalty has become a theme whereby Britain can feel good about itself, for all the special relationship with America.
Less cogent, therefore, is the way Stafford Smith becomes the darling of the British liberal-legal aristocracy and their friends in the theatre, lining up on the back cover to praise him. So there is a third way to read this excellent book: it is not only about institutional America, but — since Stafford Smith is a Brit — about our own special relationship with America, and the things we choose not to see or confront.
Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America – review
He followed this degree with another in law at Columbia University in New York. In a follow-up documentary, Stafford Smith conducted his own investigation into the murder case for which Johnson had been executed. The jurors accepted that the accused was suffering from mental illness, but condemned Langley to capital punishment. Stafford Smith made him apologise to the mother of his victim, Jeremy Guillory.
Clive Stafford Smith
He was particularly upset because he thought she looked like his sister Mary. He managed to get himself a job with a lawyer in Georgia who was campaigning against capital punishment and spent his first season visiting prisoners on Death Row. If I am forced to choose, I would probably say I hate the electric chair the most. In America, justice and money are inextricably linked: or, rather, injustice and money. It cost O. Some of the most powerful passages in this uneven book relate to these bogus experts. Those who claim to be able to identify handwriting, shoe-prints, hair and bullets especially bullets are little better, he says, than charlatans, yet they have managed to send hundreds of people to their deaths.
Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America
Clive Stafford Smith book: Injustice - Life And Death In The Courtrooms Of America