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Book Review: Chessman and His Nine Lives on Death Row by Terrence W. Cooney

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In 1956 the author of Chessman and His Nine Lives on Death Row, Terrence W. Cooney, was appointed by the California Supreme Court to argue the death penalty of Caryl Chessman who pleaded guilty to two murders. This was a case that captured much attention and brought prominence to the state of California.

During the beginning of this case, the author argued that capital punishment was cruel and unusual punishment, but this was rejected by the courts.

The interesting thing about this book it is not whether Chessman was guilty or innocent, but the amount of factual information readers will get about how our court system works. Another thing I found interesting is that Chessman received eight stays of execution, the last given by Governor Brown.

Chessman always felt like the system was playing the shell game with him, confess and you will be saved. But “we” are going to execute you anyhow.

The author does a great job of explaining how the court system works, and how each player has an important role in what happens to an inmate. He discusses the anger, resentment, power, and control issues, all the while not even taking into consideration the facts one has on the inmate.

Chessman and His Nine Lives on Death Row by Terrence W. Cooney is a fascinating read that gives readers a real look at what goes on in our prisons.

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About Carol Hoyer, PhD