You thought you knew your rights. You’ve seen every episode of “Perry Mason” and “CSI” and watched plenty of courtroom-drama movies. You’re pretty well-versed on criminal justice. You know what goes on in front of a judge. So when you were arrested, you figured you’d be back at work, quick-like. No big deal. You didn’t do whatever they say you did, you have a lawyer, and you’re innocent until proven guilty, right? Wrong. And in some states, that cockiness can get you killed, as you’ll see in “Angel of Death Row” by Andrea D. Lyons.
Growing up in Chicago, Lyons was far from popular. She was the “smart girl” who corrected teachers and always had a book in her hand. Her assertive nerdiness made her the butt of jokes and teasing, which in turn gave her empathy for the underdog. Later, with a nod toward that empathy, she became a lawyer.
On a brazenly-gotten job interview, Lyons landed a job with the public defender’s office. Within a year, she found her legal niche: the homicide task force inside the public defender’s office in Chicago. The “force” was a man’s world, but Lyons quite handily proved herself.
Throughout her career, Lyons worked to save the lives of people in Illinois and Michigan who lived under the sentence of death. Eventually, hoping to “replace” herself, job-wise, she became a teacher in order to pass her knowledge on.
While the names of clients have been changed, Lyons weaves personal biography with passionate work by recalling some of her most-memorable cases in this book.
Annette Gaines faced execution, charged with slamming a fist into her toddler’s stomach and killing the infant. With careful sleuthing, Lyons proved that abuse didn’t kill the child and that Gaines was innocent.
Richard Bauman was also facing certain death, but before he agreed to allow Lyons to save his life, he demanded that she discuss classic literature with him. Astonished, Lyons turned his erudition into a way to connect with jurors.
And then there was Deirdre Jennings who sat in a Michigan jail, accused of a murder she didn’t commit. While the case against her was weak, Jennings was caught in a judicial loophole that Lyons — with a fresh look — untied.
Think you’ve seen everything you need to know about courtroom trial? No, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve read this book.
Lyons is feisty and can see the humor in many situations, but she’s dead serious about saving the lives of men and women on death row, which makes this book both pleasant to read and an edge-of-your-seat real-life scare. Lyons explains what goes on behind the scenes in a life-or-death trial and in doing so, also explains why she works to save criminals who most people don’t think are worth saving.
No matter which side of the death penalty fence you sit, if you’re looking for a book with humanity and heart, look for this one. For true crime or detective-TV fans, “Angel of Death Row” is positively heavenly.
Terri Schlichenmeyer collects books, tigers, trivia and book bags. She has also been accused of collecting dust now and then.