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Nineteen times death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder Nineteen times she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared Nineteen times she has succeeded Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case Throughout her career she has defended those accused of heinous acts and argued that no matter their guilt or innocence they deserved a chance at redemptionNow for the first time Lyon shares her story from her early work as a Legal Aid attorney to her founding of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases Full of courtroom drama tragedy and redemption Angel of Death Row is a remarkable inside look at what drives Lyon to defend those who seem indefensible—and to winThere was Annette who was suspected of murdering her own daughter There was Patrick the convicted murderer who thirsted for knowledge and shared his love of books with Lyon when she visited him in jail There was Lonnie whose mental illness made him nearly impossible to save until the daughter who remembered his better self spoke on his behalf There was Deirdre who shared Lyon’s cautious optimism that her wrongful conviction would finally be overturned allowing her to see her grandchildren born while she was in prison And there was Madison Hobley the man whose name made international headlines when he was wrongfully charged with the murder of his family and sentenced to deathThese clients trusted Lyon with their stories—and their lives Driven by an overwhelming sense of justice fairness and morality she fought for them in the courtroom and in the raucous streets staying by their sides as they struggled through real tragedy and triumphed in startling ways Angel of Death Row is the compelling memoir of Lyon’s unusual journey and groundbreaking career


10 thoughts on “Angel of Death Row

  1. says:

    This is a small universe of books that focus on the death penalty Here are a few that I have found if you are interested in doing reading on the topic Angel of Death Row is moving and well written It will hold your attention from page one This book is an example of one way to win hearts and minds Lyon started as a young woman on fire to change the world and she has kept that fire burning one death penalty case at a time When I am asked the classic uestion “How can you defend those people?” I answer that I am representing an ideal as well as a person The ideal is justice the principle that every accused person has the right to a vigorous defense The State should be able to convict someone only with solid proof Otherwise we have no democracy I strongly identify with the author Andrea Lyon She is feisty principled hard working intelligent dedicated and is willing to take a risk speaking out for her clients in the courtroom In short she is the kind of person seeking justice upon whom I tried to pattern my life She usually thinks she is right and most often is – at least in the stories she writes about herself While she has a strong ego she admits to experiencing nerves and fear regularly She also discusses bumps in the road of her personal life that impact her work She presents herself as a very open person The book is a series of stories about cases that Ms Lyon has tried mostly in Chicago beginning in 1979 up until the time the book was published in 2010 After her experience as a public defender she moved into handling appeals for people on death row Even in appeals her investigative skills played a significant role The book is based on true events; “names places and other details have been changed for the sake of privacy” At times I had tears in my eyes seeing her determination to seek the best course for a case as well as seeing her evaluation of the outcomes and conseuences The words written by Andrea Lyon are often beautiful and hopeful and can transfer that hope to the rest of us She shares the stories of men and women who have not had many of the benefits in life as most of us have had I believe that every person I have defended is a human being of value Some are terribly damaged; some lack even tenuous connections to reality Each of their lives tells us about the way in which individuals and institutions can go horribly astray but they also reveal what remains human and noble in the midst of such waste Even people facing the most horrendous prospects are still capable of caring about someone other than themselves And even those who have demonstrated total indifference to the lives of others can change Redemption is possible As long as there is life even if it is life in prison with no chance of parole there is hope for change That’s why I chose this career That’s why I’m still at it Angel of Death Row shows in its pages how you can get a piece of that hope This book is just as moving as one of my most favorite books Dead Man Walking In each book we meet a woman who is dedicated to helping those who are faced with capital punishment even those on death row This is a very readable book that will help you understand why a growing number of people oppose the death penalty You will read about people who have been on death row sometimes for many years and have been exonerated Some of the crimes are brutal and horrific Many of the cases include examples of mitigating circumstances that are legal arguments in the penalty phase of the trial to try to obtain a sentence of life without parole rather than death This disposition is common as awareness grows about the real fallibility of the system When I read books that uestion or oppose the death penalty I wonder if they don’t predominantly preach to the choir While I have opposed the death penalty for as long as I can remember I think this book can also say something important to those in favor We dehumanize people to make it easier for us to kill them This book humanizes people and asks us to let them live I give it five stars for making a most commendable effort to make a case against the death penalty I hope it has changed some minds


  2. says:

    Ms Lyon was a public defender is a defense attorney a thankless job representing the people we love to hate Her specialty getting people off death rowIn theory I have been against the death penalty It seems barbaric to kill someone in response to killing someone I'm just not that eye for an eye But my theory is often tested when I hear of some truly heinous crime something that makes someone seem so cruel that they do not seem human Someone who should never walk the streets again Ms Lyon believes everyone capable of redemption I am not sure I believe thatBut and this is a big but I always had faith that our legal system was fair with the occasional mistake as the exception I know of the unreliability of eye witness testimonies and of coerced false confessions What I didn't know is how much politics enters into judgments How racist misogynist corrupt judges are allowed to rule and preside in cases they should never touch How appeals can be denied even when important new evidence is discovered and presented In short I never knew how flawed our legal system isThe cases in this book all show these people sentenced to death row as people often disenfranchised often with violent backgrounds often desperately poor but people The statistics of who is sent to death row are astounding If you are African American and poor don't expect the justice system to work for you Some of these stories are truly heartbreaking Imagine spending years of your life in 23 hour a day lockup waiting for someone to legally kill you for something you didn't doI still have faith that most judges are honest and fair Whether that is true I don't know But there has to be a better way to get the dishonest ones the racists and corrupt ones off the bench There has to be a way to make representation fair and not about politics not just about the kill of winningMs Lyon was part of the defense team for Casey Anthony That one is hard for me She left the team Why do I think this book deserves five stars? Ms Lyon has a job I would absolutely hate yet she has done it for years never giving up on justice in the right to a fair trial In her personal life she has made some of the same bad decisions her clients have made but to a much lesser degree She is real she is believable The most important part of this book is that it will cause discussion it will cause open minded people who believe in the death penalty to see the other side of the coin Perhaps it will lead to some reform of the legal system It will help us know that there is another side to the coin what we hear isn't always the truth isn't always the whole story As Ms Lyon says at the end of her bookIt takes enormous effort to drag the courts sometimes against staggering opposition toward what is fair and humane And to me fair and humane is the definition of justice We may never arrive at a state that perfectly balances these two concepts but we affirm our own humanity in the attemptThe uote may have changed in the published edition I read an Advanced Readers Edition given to me by a friend Thank you Tara both for the recommendation and for your copy of the book I highly recommend reading this one


  3. says:

    Knowing that you often can tell a book by its cover I was prepared for Angel of Death Row to be a bleeding heart liberal condemnation of the American criminal justice system in general and the death penalty in particular After all on the cover is the subtitle My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer and at the top above the title and in letters larger than the subtitle is the name of Alan M Dershowitz who wrote the forward Although Lyon's book is to some extent those things it's also a terrific book of courtroom tales Some of those tales are what you might expect tales of struggles against bigoted judges prosecutors who don't play by the rules horrific crimes horribly injured victims and damaged defendants But some of the tales are simply tales of talking to people teasing their stories out of them finding common ground with victims criminals families Lyon made a career out of defending those facing the death penalty one of the first women to do so Her stories are well chosen crisply told and compelling While Lyon didn't always like the people she represented she always strove to understand them and treat them as fellow human beings In doing so she discovered that many had complicated life stories worth hearing and worth writing about The gang enforcer who counseled his siblings to avoid gangs and crime and asked Lyon to bring him books of poetry the woman who smothered her infant to keep her from being abused as she had been poor minority defendants used to being ignored who were grateful that someone took moment to ask about their lives Lyon's work is often hard and discouraging and often disparaged by those who don't see the point of it She writes When I am asked the classic uestion 'How can you defend those people?' I answer that I am representing an ideal as well as a person The ideal is justice the principle that every accused person has a right toa vigorous defense The State should be able to convict someone only with solid proof Otherwise we have no democracy Lyon truly believes that and her career and book bear that out But if you think this is a dry legalistic treatise you'd be dead wrong It's a fascinating collection of trial lawyer war stories maybe not as good as television trial tales but human and real


  4. says:

    Full disclosure I know Andrea I've worked with Andrea I've represented some of the same people I know and have worked with people she writes about in this book But I'm going to review this book all the sameAndrea joined the Cook County IL Public Defender's Office at a time when there were very few women trial lawyers much less criminal defense lawyers She took a lot of guff from prosecutors judges and colleagues but she never let it stop her By the time she left that office she was the head of the Homicide Task Force than which there are in no small part thanks to Andrea no better lawyers She went on to found the Capital Resource Center representing Illinois' death row inmates in post conviction proceedings the Center is now the Post Conviction Unit of the Office of the State Appellate Defender and then moved on to clinical work at the University of Michigan and the DePaul University School of Law where she heads the Center for Justice in Capital CasesThis is the story of how she came to be The Angel of Death Row as she was dubbed by the Chicago Tribune She talks of her life her family and her clients in an easy conversational style It's not a book that's heavy on the law; that's not what it's about It's about people The people she works with the people she lives with the people she represents The last are the most important It's so easy to see criminal defendants as the other; Andrea helps us as she has helped juries see the man or woman and how they got to be sitting in the defendant's seat Some of the stories are horrific some are sad some are incomprehensible But they are all stories of human beings whose lives went terribly wrong Andrea knows that the why is as important as the what in these stories and she is indefatigable in conveying that to judges and juriesAndrea's passion for justice and her anger at injustice and the system that tolerates it are obvious on every page of this book


  5. says:

    Andrea Lyon tells the story of her life's work first as a public defender in Cook County IL Chicago and then as a private public interest attorney litigating post conviction claims appeals habeus and clemency petitions etc on behalf of people sentenced to death As a public defender myself I can say that this is a great book that everyone should read Although a cynic might try to dismiss this book as just another lawyer thinking her cases and life are something special that would simply be unfair Lyon strikes a beautiful balance here by never sounding boastful even as she describes the Herculean feats she has accomplished in her life and work She clearly takes pride in her accomplishments but she is always humble and understated in making you understand how well deserved that pride really is If anything she is too humble which risks giving the impression that the cases she tried the battles she won were not all that difficult when nothing could be further from the truth Fighting the immense power of the state standing up to prejudice and fear working with and for people upon whom the rest of society has given up then figuring out how to connect with a jury finding a way to get 12 people to see past their fears and prejudices and biases and see the human being they are judging—it all takes something close to magic and for Lyon to make it seem easy shows just how good she is But that's exactly why everyone should read this book it's a collection of powerful and poignant examples of how important public defenders are and what a valuable role they play in out society Lyon kept innocent people out of prison and prevented the state from destroying valuable and redeemable human lives She spent her career standing up and fighting for people who had no one and nothing and reminding all of us that we cannot have justice without someone like her fighting on behalf of those we as a society have accused of crimes This is what public defenders do And just as Lyon connected with all those juries in this book she connects with readers to help them understand the importance and righteousness of the work she has done I loved this book but no book is perfect and this one could have been improved at least for me in two main ways First the book largely avoids discussion of the politics of being a public defender and especially a public defender in Chicago Lyon does address the misogyny and homophobia of judges and she mentions that politics can play a role in cases such as when juries may be likely to want to convict a defendant if the victim is white andor wealthy andor holds a prominent position That's all great stuff but I wanted What about the politics within the office itself? She does mention that political patronage plays a substantial role in hiring public defenders something that may be less true today but What about the union? What about the battles public defenders often have to wage against supervisors and politicians for resources and time to work a case the right way?On this point the bit of history Lyon provides about the genesis of the Homicide Task Force is fascinating She relates how she asked the Task Force's founder Bill Murphy about it It's where the best trial lawyers and the real troublemakers end up he said You have to hope that's true considering the seriousness of the cases the Task Force's members carry But Murphy goes on to explain that he started the unit because he saw that people were getting passed from lawyer to lawyer for weeks or even months from the time of their arrest to the time of anyone getting serious about fighting their case Murphy saw that this was a horrible way to fight a criminal charge not to mention a horrible way to give anyone the impression that public defenders are real lawyers who care about their clients So Murphy started Homicide Task known inside the office today as Murder Task to make sure that lawyers met people accused of the most serious crimes at preliminary hearing and followed their cases all the way through to final judgment He should have gone farther and made sure the lawyers started on the case at bond hearing or before but at least it's something Today Murder Task still exists and provides that sort of continuous representation to a handful of defendants in Cook County For everyone else the office remains broken leaving defendants or less without counsel until weeks or months after their arrest It's appalling really and both amazing and depressing to learn that it's been this way for than 30 years In addition to my wish that the book included such insights and history into the inner workings of one of the nation's largest public defender offices my second uibble is that the actual order of the chapters seemed off to me Specifically the penultimate and last chapters should be switched Dierdre's story in chapter 12 was the climax of the book — the story of the innocent woman who spent years on death row lost every appeal and post conviction plea despite good evidence of actual innocence and then was saved at the last minute by a governor's pardon This was the case that seemed most touching and dramatic and which Lyon built up the most and to greatest effect This was also the case of which Lyon seemed most proud Chronologically it came as far as I could tell later than most or all of the other cases Lyon discusses Finally it had about the happiest possible ending anyone could hope for All of this meant that when I reached the conclusion of that chapter it felt like Lyon's life had come full circle like she had told about all there was to tell It felt like a climax and something of an exclamation point The end Yet with no transition the book moves right on to the final chapter the story of another case one that Lyon worked on before her triumph with Dierdre and one that could not hope to top the impact of Dierdre's story in any way While I enjoyed this chapter it felt out of place and anticlimactic There is no reason for anything except possibly a short epilogue to follow Dierdre's story For me and I suspect for many other readers the book would come to a natural and satisfying conclusion if these two chapters were rearranged Finally the epilogue attempts to being us all up to date on the death penalty in IL but even though the book was published in 2010 it is already out of date In 2011 Illinois abolished the death penalty once and for all We can thank Lyon for working tirelessly to defeat that terrible punishment when it was legal and for showing its flaws so that legislatures could see that ending it was the right thing to do


  6. says:

    Two words come to mind with this book ambition and justiceI think we can all agree that ambition is a good thing responsible for pushing the individual to achieve Yet it can be good for oneself and bad for others If I say I want to be the richest person in the world without ualification then the means I use to try to achieve my goal can destroy lives For ambition to be ethical it must take others into considerationThe ideal individual ambition for society is one that depends upon providing a benefit to others For example Lincoln's ambition was to be respected by others This ambition could not be achieved if he showed disregard or contempt; it demanded his attention to what others valued We know him as a great man but important is his ambition was realized in his lifetime and it kept him and the country going through dark timesWhat of justice? We all feel a need to see justice done This drives the plots of so many books movies and plays It feels good to see a wrong righted in many cases a wrong driven by inconsiderate ambition But what of institutionalized justice; the courts? There is a practical need for it to exist to handle the volume of wrongs that are done and the protection of the public by the imprisonment of those proven dangerous How easy though to believe that a court of law is always a court of justiceThe professional life of Andrea Lyon brings together ambition and justice in a perfect match Her burning desire to be an eminent practitioner of the law combines with a deep sense of the value of each human life to create an angel by comparison to the normIt can be difficult for people to deal with the next door neighbor so it is to be expected that those mired in poverty whose aspirations are crushed early in life are easily placed within the arms of the justice system that puts them away to be forgotten if not to be put to death Recent years have seen one of the two major political parties warmly embrace law and order with harsh mandatory rules that eagerly take away the leeway given a judge in favor of strict absolute sentencing that seeks to lock up and throw away the key Anger has taken the place of justice and our prisons burst with inmates many of whom do not belong there This production line for incarceration is antithesis to the justice Lyon seeksLyon takes us through her life by taking us through her days on the job She goes to see a convict with the intention of finding out all that can be discovered about the circumstances of the crime not being put off by the fact that a court has made a decision Against the word hopeless she pits persistence and determination through investigation Time and again her approach is vindicated in the salvation of the individual who is liberated if not in body then in mind by seeing real justice doneThis book is a perfect companion to Steve Bogira's Courtroom 302 That book documents the dis functional operation of the same Cook County Illinois court system where Lyon has done most of her work Lyon is expert at painlessly slipping in the procedures and workings of the law and lawyers so we can understand why things have arrived at the state they are inAddressing the graduating class of Antioch College in 1859 Horace Mann famously said be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity Though Andrea Lyon was not there to hear those words that spirit informs her ambition Humanity has won a victory through her work


  7. says:

    As a general policy I want to read anything written by a Public Defender because I am a Public Defender This was no exception Much like Defending the Damned part of this book was focused on Lyon's work in the Homicide Task Force in the Cook County Public Defender's Office Themes of the book include rising through the ranks as a female attorney balancing life and work and viewing each client as an individual no matter their race life history attitude towards Lyon I was inspired by Lyon's ability to dedicate and give all of herself to the job even though she had to make sacrifices in her personal life to accomplish her great success in the workplace This is a struggle most Public Defender's face myself included Understaffing lack of resources and ridiculously heavy caseloads create a situation where working overtime isn't a choice it's a necessity Eventually Lyons was able to find a balance she ended up with children a daughter and step son and married On a number of occasions I started crying moved by the stories of her clients and how she used the legal system to get them a fair outcome What people who don't practice criminal defense don't understand but what Lyons perfectly illustrated is that sometimes it isn't about getting an acuittal Rather it's about getting the best outcome we can for our clients The book only dragged when Lyon repeated herself brief stories or her position as anti death penalty or explained legal termsprocedures As a public defender myself the latter is probably only a complaint I would raise as I am familiar with the legal speak


  8. says:

    Andrea Lyon is one of the most fascinating and honest women I know When I say know it is with great honor that I get to be her facebook friend Some authors really strike a resonating cord and I seek them out to actively stalk them This is one of themThe book contains 12 chapters and an epilogue Each chapter reads like a very well written essay that can stand alone but as is Andrea's way when taken as a whole with the other stories the journey is much satisfying The author begins her career as an attorney in the late '70's as a public defender She is presented with cases that are horrifying engaging and often mishandled Woven within the pages is Andrea Lyon an articulate intelligent fallible human being who cries when she meets a downtrodden client and brings home to her own home a client she has successfully proved not guilty of the crime convicted of Competent in her chosen career the author suffers from poor decision making in her personal life Through her experiences she recognizes it and rectifies it I could not put the book down Andrea introduces the reader to some of her clients that have been instrumental in solidifying her own choices Most are residents of death row This means they have been arrested charged with murder a jury trial held and found guilty Some are guilty Some are not Her job is to provide the best possible outcome for these people She strongly believes that every life is precious and redemption is always possible The pious majority believe that if a person is arrested and charged with a crime they are probably guilty This flies in the face of the concept Innocent until proven guilty The burden of proof to make an arrest by law enforcement is not monitored One woman was charged with the murder of her boyfriend based on one eyewitness who thought she saw the woman's car leave the area at a certain hour The other evidence was a broken fingernail found in her own garbage can Her own The detective surmised it broke while she killed her boyfriend That's it Except that isn't really it The detective did not present all of the evidence found for discovery For instance there were a number of other people who possessed the boyfriend's house key There was a man dressed in a uniform wandering around the streets at the time of the murder and mentioned something about the crime before it was discovered later that morning He was later polygraphed and failedIt was such a flimsy case the defense attorney didn't even try to prove her client was not guilty Arrogance in an attorney can have disastrous results She was convictedKey points I found fascinating Arrests can be made with insufficient evidence Oft times the evidence is simply that the accused survived a horrible tragedy a case of an apartment fire where 7 people died including a man's wife and child He was arrested without any evidence Once under arrest the most unlikely to leave are the truly indigent particularly African American If bail is set they are too poor to make bail Even if innocent they will stay in jail thus losing their means of support and income There are detectives who do and will use torture to force a confession One man spent three hours with a typewriter cover tied over his head while being intimidated and tortured for a confession He never gave it The detectives claimed he signed a confession but coffee was spilled on it so it was thrown away Their word was accepted as evidence The client is nearly always over charged This means the defense attorney has to file motions to get each charge addressed in court with the judge or accept a plea deal guilty or not Without income or savings the accused is forced to accept counsel from a public defender who carries far too many cases to effectively defend the client Judges make a huge difference in the way the case will be handled They are not necessarily represented in the image of Lady Justice holding a scale with a blindfold The author has heard her share of bigotry misogyny and other prejudices in open court Judges can choose whether or not to allow exhibits that would exonerate the accused without basis of law It is terrifyingly easy to be accused of a crime and have all of the above conditions for any person in this country The Illinois governor George Ryan made this statementThree years ago I was faced with startling information We had exonerated not one not two but thirteen men from death row The state nearly killed innocent people nearly injected them with a cocktail of deadly poisons so that they could die in front of witnesses on a gurney in the state's death chamberThirty three death row inmates were represented at trial by attorneys who had later been disbarred or at some point suspended from practicing law Of the than 160 death row inmates 35 are African American defendants who were convicted or condemned to die by all all white juries More than two thirds of the inmates on death row are African American Forty six inmates were convicted on the basis of testimony from jailhouse informantsThat right there frightens me silly


  9. says:

    It's a pleasure to read about people in the criminal justice system working tirelessly to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law Her stories of providing counsel for the poor are well written and describe unbelievably sad cases of people being done wrong After being infuriated at the injustices being described I think I cried at the end of each chapter when things were made right


  10. says:

    Although I am no longer a public defender I am still fascinated by the practice and enjoy discussing experiences with colleagues So when a friend of mine recommended this book to me I was instantly looking forward to reading it I had read Defending the Damned a few years back a book based on attorneys in the same office as Ms Lyon and was excited about Lyon's personal take on the life she lived as a public defender on the Homicide Task Force Having been in similar situations myself as Lyon albiet not dealing with clients facing the death penalty it was easy to imagine myself in every aspect of her case the initial what am I going to do feeling when assigned what seems to be a hopeless case the excitement when realizing things may not be as they seem and the satisfaction of a fair resolution There are also disappointments and frustration many times outweighing wins A win in these cases doesn't necessarily mean an acuittal Sometimes it just means providing the client with a fair trial and having hisher voice heard Overall I enjoyed the book I think she did a great job of portraying the discrimination she faced as a woman in a male dominated profession and the frustration she felt as single woman devoted to career wondering if she has to choose her profession over a family I was uietly cheering when she met her husband and joined their families together Additionally she was able to discuss the problems in the justice system such as mental illness racism and hopelessness that are many times overlooked She made the clients people Had I not already been opposed to the death penalty this book would have made me think long and hard about my position and I recommend it to anybody struggling and even those set in their beliefs with this decision