Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Note: I haven't posted here in a long time, and neither has anyone else. I went through a phase where I wrote book reviews semi-professionally for a while ($20 per review), and I was forced to read such dreck I was turned off to reviewing for a while. But I just finished a book for research purposes, and it was so engaging I was inspired to write a review. Here it is:

Welcome to Murder Task Force, the elite division of the Chicago office of public defenders. Attorneys on this force take on the city's worst cases as clients--serial killers, couples who kill their babies, teenagers who kill cops. And they all believe strongly in what they're doing.

Television almost never portrays PDs accurately; they're either inundated with too many cases or incompetent or both. But Davis shows that the attorneys with the Murder Task Force are highly trained and passionate about their jobs. They're fighters. They kind of have to be, since everyone, sometimes even their own clients, roil with hatred for them. As for the public, it has nothing but contempt for them.

While Davis offers details of several different cases (he opens with a riveting, if nauseating, one), he mainly follows the case of Aloysius Oliver, a then-teenager accused of killing Chicago cop Eric Lee. Not only does Davis show the inner workings of the case, he balanced the views of Lee's family and Oliver's family nicely. I think he also showed how easy it is for everyone--politicians, the public, the victim's family--to crowd cases with their own agendas. At one point, then-Mayor Daley encouraged a jury to give Oliver the death penalty, even though the jury was supposed to be sequestered from all news media of the case. Well, wink wink nod nod, I guess.

Davis also shows the inner workings of the public defender's office and just how taxing the job can be on those who work in it. Two jobs I had no idea existed: investigators and mitigators for the defense. Investigators are employed to see just how well the stories of the case shake out, and mitigators piece together facts and stories of the perp's lives in order to mitigate a sentence. When the death penalty was in effect in Illinois, mitigators were used to help perps get life instead of the death penalty.

All in all, an engaging, informative and compassionate read.