David R. Dow is professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center and an internationally recognized figure in the fight against the death penalty. He is the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network. He lives in Houston, Texas. His new book is “The Autobiography of an Execution” (Click to buy on Amazon)
As a lawyer, David R. Dow has represented over 100 death row cases. Many of his clients have died. Most were guilty. Some might have been innocent. The Autobiography of an Execution is his deeply personal story about justice, death penalty, and a lawyer’s life.
It is a chronicle of a life lived at paradoxical extremes: Witnessing executions and then coming home to the loving embrace of his wife and young son, who inquire about his day. Waging moral battles on behalf of people who have committed abhorrent crimes. Fighting for life in America’s death penalty capital, within a criminal justice system full of indifferent and ineffectual judges. Racing against time on behalf of clients who have no more time.
Upcoming Book Signings by David Dow
Monday, February 15th – Brazos Bookstore – Houston, TX
Wednesday, February 17th – Books & Books – Miami, FL
Tuesday, February 23rd – Book People – Austin, TX
Wednesday, February 24th – Barnes & Noble – San Antonio, TX
Saturday, February 27th – Politics & Prose – Washington, DC
Throughout the book, Dow toggles back and forth between his capital cases and life with his wife and 6-year-old son in Houston. They have certain expectations of him: SpongeBob, T-ball practice, trick-or-treating. Sometimes he misses these things to witness another execution. Then he launders his clothes (always in a wash of their own) and joins the family for dinner. Readers who don’t care about his son’s T-ball practices or his wife’s dance classes may find this background distracting, but for Dow his family is a lifeline back from the death chamber. It can’t be a coincidence that in a book about the brutal reality of capital punishment there is — in addition to the bourbon and cigars — a piece of steak, a rare hamburger, a piece of grass-fed sirloin or a roasted chicken on just about every other page. Dow isn’t doing high constitutional theory here; this is pure red meat. What Dow exposes in this dark, raw memoir is not just a dispassionate machinery of death that cannot be slowed, reversed or mediated by truth, logic or fact. He also exposes the inner life of a man who, in the face of all that, cannot give up the fight.
Nobody but Dow could have told Dow’s story. The problem is, he cannot fully tell it either. As he explains in an author’s note at the start of the book, the demands of attorney-client confidentiality have forced him to use pseudonyms, attribute procedural details of certain cases to other cases, and alter the timing of some events, though he insists that the “basic chronology” is correct — and that he never changed the facts of the crimes. His publisher appends a letter explaining why this was done and a memorandum from an ethics professor explaining the legal basis for this choice. Whatever the legal issues, the result is a book that is less an autobiography of an execution than a powerful collage of the life of a death penalty lawyer.
In describing the fraught relationship between law and truth, Dow laments the fact that when it comes to the law, “the facts matter, but the story matters more.” But having created a brilliant, heart-rending book that can’t be properly fact-checked, Dow almost seems to have joined the ranks of people who will privilege emotion over detail, and narrative over precision.
For those who already oppose the death penalty, Dow’s book provides searing confirmation of what they already know to be true: the capital system is biased, reckless and inhuman. But had a prosecutor written a book arguing that the machinery of death is fantastic, just trust him, Dow himself would weep for strict adherence to facts, however ungainly. We’ve seen too many books lately suggesting that facts and sourcing matter little. It isn’t a trend to which lawyers should contribute.