David R. Dow is a fascinating character. As the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Rorschach Visiting Professor of History at Rice University, his academic credentials are extensive. Aside from academia, Dow works tirelessly as a death penalty lawyer and has represented more than one hundred inmates at their state and federal appeals. In addition, twelve years ago Dow started the Texas Innocence Network, an organization that uses University of Houston law students to investigate claims of innocence filed by Texas prisoners.
Such is the backdrop to Dow’s latest book, ‘The Autobiography of an Execution’. In this remarkable book, Dow talks candidly about his life and the enormous strains placed upon himself, his colleagues and his family. The pressure his ‘vocation’ exerts is relentless, often stepping in to represent clients at the eleventh hour when there appeals are almost exhausted. What emerges is a deeply moving autobiography, where Dow comes across as someone who is driven to do the right thing by his clients, many of whom have been poorly represented at the initial trial stage. Moreover, he talks with great insight about the deeply dysfunctional backgrounds of majority of those sentenced to death and makes a cogent case for more targeted early intervention strategy.
Refreshingly, Dow is open and honest in the book about his emotions – whether that be the guilt he feels at not being able to spend as much time with his wife and son as he would like, or intensely disliking some of his clients.
An ‘Autobiography of an Execution‘ is an excellent read that charts the sadness, happiness, frustration and hopelessness that accompanies the life of a death row lawyer and a remarkable man.
You can watch David Dow talking about his book in particular, and the issues surrounding the death penalty in general, in this interview with Gary Polland and David Jones: