Alan Berlow

Alan Berlow is the author of Dead Season: A Story of Murder and Revenge.

Recent Articles

A New New Low

If Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee get their way, the United States may soon have a law that could permit state-sanctioned murder. Sound improbable? Naturally the bill's chief sponsor, John Kyl of Arizona, doesn't say his measure would do that. He's given the bill a genial moniker -- the Streamlined Procedures Act -- and insists that all he's really trying to do is limit “endless death-penalty delays,” put an end to “frivolous” appeals, and let the states get on with the business of executing people. But the fundamental question raised by this radical attack on one of the pillars of our criminal-justice system is this: If someone is charged with capital murder and faces a possible death sentence, and the state progressively deprives him of the means to defend himself, at what point does the judicial process become little more than a legal lynching? Kyl's bill -- and a companion House measure authored by California Republican Dan Lungren -- should be seen as the...

Requiem for a Public Defender

A long, dreary corridor of black-marbled linoleum serves as a makeshift waiting room for defendants scheduled to be tried at the Spalding County Courthouse in Griffin, Georgia, 40 miles south of Atlanta. More than 50 men and women, mostly black, stand along a pale yellow wall or sit on a dark oak bench, waiting to talk to a heavyset lawyer with a silver beard, a handlebar mustache, and square wire-rimmed glasses, who suddenly pokes his head from a doorway, a cigarette dangling from his lips. "Lashawn Reid, front and center," he barks, and a young woman charged with burglary rises from the bench. She enters a tiny office guarded by an armed sheriff, where attorney Johnny B. Mostiler--his hands sparkling with six gold, diamond, and onyx rings, his wrists with three gold bracelets--pulls a utility drawer from an aluminum desk and crushes his cigarette into a pile of butts in the paper clip tray. For the past 10 years, the gruff-talking, chain-smoking Mostiler was Spalding County's only...

The Broken Machinery Of Death

No longer can a jury wantonly and freakishly impose the death sentence; it is always circumscribed by the legislative guidelines. --Gregg v. Georgia T wenty-five years ago this month, on July 2, 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 in Gregg v. Georgia to reinstate the death penalty after a brief official hiatus. Implicit in the Gregg decision was the optimistic belief that the many problems identified by a previous Supreme Court decision, Furman v. Georgia, could be fixed. In 1972 the Furman Court had struck down hundreds of state laws that the justices deemed "arbitrary and capricious." But the majority in Gregg argued that "clear and objective standards" would minimize juror caprice and reduce discrimination. In an age of science, a "maturing society" could have a death penalty to be proud of. A quarter-century and more than 700 executions later--including, last month, the first two federal executions in four decades--the promise of Gregg seems preposterously naive. Gregg' s...

Lethal Injustice

S ince he took office in January 1995, George W. Bush has presided over more than 120 executions, accounting for more than a third of the executions in the nation at large during that time. Bush is not, of course, entirely responsible for this astonishing record, and he typically dismisses any questions about it by noting that he was sworn to uphold Texas laws. Nevertheless, there are 38 death penalty states, and none seems to go about the execution process with anything near the charnel house zeal one finds in Texas. Indeed, if all of them had executed death row inmates at the Texas rate, there would have been an execution every other day, a total of 834 during Bush's five-year tenure. Read an exclusive interview with the author. Yet however remarkable the Texas statistics, what is even more important is the way Bush has handled these executions and what that says about his leadership, his broader notion of justice and due process, and his embrace of what is arguably the most...