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Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook…

Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's…

by Kevin Davis

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This 2007 book tells of the work of the public defender's office in Chicago. Much of the book tells of the defense afforded to Aloysius Oliver, who is accused of killing a policeman. One stands in admiration of the hard word the public defender goes through to see that the accused gets a fair trial. The work of the defenders is especially draining since the State was seeking to imitate killers by killing the accused. The book details the effort of the State to do unto the accused what they say the accused did--kill. I found the book riveting at times and also appalling. I conclude that a public defender who works in a state which does not seek to kill, such as Iowa, should be grateful, and could not help but agree with Pope Francis that the death penalty should be abolished. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jan 14, 2016 |
Welcome to Murder Task Force, the elite division of the Chicago office of public defenders. Attorneys on this force take on the city's worst cases as clients--serial killers, couples who kill their babies, teenagers who kill cops. And they all believe strongly in what they're doing.

Television almost never portrays PDs accurately; they're either inundated with too many cases or incompetent or both. But Davis shows that the attorneys with the Murder Task Force are highly trained and passionate about their jobs. They're fighters. They kind of have to be, since everyone, sometimes even their own clients, roil with hatred for them. As for the public, it has nothing but contempt for them.

While Davis offers details of several different cases (he opens with a riveting, if nauseating, one), he mainly follows the case of Aloysius Oliver, a then-teenager accused of killing Chicago cop Eric Lee. Not only did Davis show the inner workings of the case, he balanced the views of Lee's family and Oliver's family nicely. I think he also showed how easy it is for everyone--politicians, the public, the victim's family--to crowd cases with their own agendas. At one point, then-Mayor Daley encouraged a jury to give Oliver the death penalty, even though the jury was supposed to be sequestered from all news media of the case. Well, wink wink nod nod, I guess.

Davis also shows the inner workings of the public defender's office and just how taxing the job can be on those who work in it. Two jobs I had no idea existed: investigators and mitigators for the defense. Investigators are employed to see just how well the stories of the case shake out, and mitigators piece together facts and stories of the perp's lives in order to mitigate a sentence. When the death penalty was in effect in Illinois, mitigators were used to help perps get life instead of the death penalty.

All in all, an engaging, informative read. ( )
  stacy_chambers | Jul 8, 2014 |
An excellent book on the criminal justice system. Read it along with Courtroom 302 to get a really good picture of how the criminal courts are working (or not working). The author is careful to be objective about the defendants, who generally have done horrific things. The heroes of the book are the public defenders, who take these cases and push them as hard as they can. If there is a "bad guy" in the book, it is the death penalty, which has dramatically increased the stakes for both sides. Meanwhile, mistaken death sentences have undermined the credibility of the system. Smith's book is not a screed against the death penalty, but rather is a wonderful description of unusual and courageous people who do an almost unthinkably difficult job. ( )
  tom1066 | May 20, 2008 |
The subtitle tells what this is about: "Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office," and it is utterly fascinating. It has an amazing woman at the center of it - what a character! - who pulls out all the stops to defend some truly awful people, as well as some who aren't. The writer has done an amazing job of reporting the story so it reads like a novel, but never straying from good journalism into making things up. I had never heard of this book, but I bumped into when searching for something else and am really glad I did. It's not for the faint of heart. Some of the crimes that go through that courthouse make the most gruesome mystery pale in comparison. But through it all the message is clear that we owe PDs a debt of gratitude for taking on a job that most people despise and giving it their best regardless of what they think of their clients.

I wonder if the author will turn to crime fiction - three of the five blurbs on the cover are from crime fiction authors. If he does, I'm there. ( )
  bfister | Oct 14, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743270932, Hardcover)

Chicago was the nation's deadliest city in 2001, recording 666 homicides. For lawyers in the Cook County Public Defender's Office Murder Task Force, that meant a steady flow of new clients. Eight out of ten people arrested for murder in Chicago are represented by public defenders. They're assigned the most challenging and seemingly hopeless cases, yet they always fight to win.

One of those lawyers is Marijane Placek, a snakeskin boot-wearing, Shakespeare-quoting nonconformist whose courtroom bravado and sharp legal skills have made her a well-known figure around the courthouse. When an ex-convict was arrested on charges of killing a Chicago police officer that deadly year, Placek got the high-profile case, and her defense forms the hub around which the book's narrative revolves.

Veteran journalist Kevin Davis reveals the compelling true story of a team of battle-scarred lawyers fighting against all odds. Unflinching, gripping, and full of surprises, Defending the Damned is an unforgettable human story and engaging courtroom drama where life and death hang in the balance. Davis explores the motives that compel these lawyers to come to work in this dark corner of the criminal justice system and exposes their insular and often misunderstood world.

This groundbreaking work comes at a time when the country has seen how wrongful convictions have slipped through the system, that innocent people have been sent to death row, and that some police have lied or coerced suspects into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Such flaws drive these public defenders even harder to do their jobs, providing scrutiny to a long ignored and often broken system.

Davis's reporting offers an unvarnished account of public defenders as never seen before. A powerful melding of courtroom drama and penetrating truecrime journalism, Defending the Damned is narrative nonfiction at its finest.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:26 -0400)

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