The founder of the Texas Innocence Network, who is also the litigation director at the Texas Defender Service and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, uses his hard-won knowledge of the state legal system to maximum effect in his fifth book, The Autobiography of an Execution. Both opponents and advocates of the death penalty will find grist for their mills in this detailed account of prisoners who live in the shadow of their sentence and the public defenders who are charged with keeping them alive. Dow has represented more than one hundred death row inmates.
How many Texas inmates are currently on death row? There are 332 death row inmates in Texas. Ten are women. In 2009 twenty-four were executed.
You’re opposed to the death penalty. Is that a moral position or—not to be callous—a practical one? I was not opposed to it when I started this work, twenty years ago. Over the years, I have changed my mind. Initially, it was, as you characterize it, a practical consideration: There was no way to make the system fair. Eventually my position became a more purely moral one. I simply believe it is wrong to kill. It is wrong when my clients kill, and they should be punished. But it is also wrong when the state kills.
What do you think people most commonly misunderstand about death row? I suspect that many people assume that the murderers on death row are the worst of the worst. In my experience, that assumption is false. Murders range from despicable and cruel to