Publisher: Piatkus
ISBN: 0-86188-879-0
Published 1989 hardback
Publisher: Paladin (HarperCollins)
ISBN: 0-586-09055-X
Published 1991 paperback
Out of print, available from Amazon and other sellers

Powerful, moving and immensely readable, Life on Death Row is the shocking story of racism, prejudice and hatred in the USA, one of the most powerful nations of the world. The book  traces the struggle of the British lawyer and human rights campaigner Clive Stafford Smith to save the lives of two black men whom he believed to be innocent. Both were sentenced to death in the USA for the murder of white policemen. Their stories show up the iniquities of the death penalty and the injustice of the American legal system.

Chapter One, The ExecutionThe young Englishman say hunched at the back of the room, his head bowed, eyes tightly shut. Even so he held his hands over his face, as though fearing that he would see what he could not bear to see.

A few yards away from him, in the execution chamber, the black man, his friend, was dying. Dying for a crime he swore he did not commit. Clive did not see. But he could not block out the sounds of death. The desperate gasping for air as the poisonous cyanide gas filled the airtight chamber where the black man sat, strapped to the chair. Nor could he ignore the excited chatter of the others who had gathered to watch the bizarre spectacle. Ghouls, Clive called them, and waves of nausea hit him.

The Mississippi night air was damp and heavy outside the execution block of the state penitentiary. Clive, in his rumpled open-necked shirt, could feel the sweat dripping down his back. One of the guards had turned off the air conditioning in the small room where the group was gathered to witness the final minutes in the life of the 26-year-old prisoner. Clive had almost refused to take part in this last macabre ritual. But his sense of duty towards the black man, his loyalty, his friendship, had forced him to be there. He had failed him in his attempts to stop the ghastly procedure. He could not fail him now.

Reviews

In its quiet way, this is one of the most devastating anti-capital punishment polemics ever published. (Observer)

Tragically, [the author’s] argument is as persuasive as her writing is powerful. (Mail on Sunday)

[the author’s] strength is to see capital punishment as the by-product of a social structure flawed by reasons of class and colour. (The London Review of Books)

For anyone interested in the injustice of Death Row this is a must read albeit not particularly current. People who may be considering reinstating capital punishment in Britain should take note. (Amazon)