Angel of Death Row
Author: Andrea D. Lyon
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the “Angel of Death Row” by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her career, she has defended those accused of heinous acts and argued that, no matter their guilt or innocence, they deserved a chance at redemption.
Now, for the first time, Lyon shares her story, from her early work as a Legal Aid attorney to her founding of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases. Full of courtroom drama, tragedy, and redemption, Angel of Death Row is a remarkable inside look at what drives Lyon to defend those who seem indefensible—and to win.
There was Annette who was suspected of murdering her own daughter. There was Patrick, the convicted murderer who thirsted for knowledge and shared his love of books with Lyon when she visited him in jail. There was Lonnie, whose mental illness made him nearly impossible to save until the daughter who remembered his better self spoke on his behalf. There was Deirdre, who shared Lyon’s cautious optimism that her wrongful conviction would finally be overturned, allowing her to see her grandchildren born while she was in prison. And there was Madison Hobley, the man whose name made international headlines when he was wrongfully charged with the murder of his family and sentenced to death.
These clients trusted Lyon with their stories—and their lives. Driven by an overwhelming sense of justice, fairness, and morality, she fought for them in the courtroom and in the raucous streets, staying by their sides as they struggled through real tragedy and triumphed in startling ways. Angel of Death Row is the compelling memoir of Lyon’s unusual journey and groundbreaking career.
Its always interesting to see where my Goodreads challenge reading takes me, since I know that the Angel of Death Row is likely not a book I would have picked up, if I wasn’t looking for a non-fiction book with a specific theme. These theme (in homage to the pioneering women in Hidden Figures), a non-fiction book about a women who was first to do something significant (which Ms Lyon most definitely did). I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical going in – I mean, when I think about Death Penalty cases – visions of people like Jodi Arias come to mind or the scene from The Green Mile (where they are using the electric chair) and my thought pattern was how can she defend people who seem indefensible (yes, I know that everyone deserves the best defense they can afford by our constitution), but its still hard for me…but that wasn’t what I got.
As soon as I started reading Angel of Death Row, I felt drawn to Ms Lyon – it was interesting seeing how when she made up her mind on her career pathway that nothing derailed her and seeing how she knowingly made choices that would set her career on the trajectory to become the first female to try a death penalty case in the US. Added to that, her experience as the only female on Task Force Homicide which was part of the Public Defender’s Office (which by the way, why do we never see anything more than the slovenly public defender on TV who is quickly replaced by a high-powered shark of a lawyer, who swoops in to save the day) – made her career progression all the more intriguing – I haven’t read a lot of biographies about individuals in the legal field (lawyers or judges) – so I can’t say what I expected a typical career to look like, but this isn’t what I expect (yeah, I know, totally vague there)…
It’s hard to go into the different cases that were mentioned in Andrea’s book – several of them are mentioned in the books description – but in so much more color/detail – at times, I felt like I was sitting in a kitchen with Ms Lyon while she interviewed a witness or trudging the streets with her while she tried to find that one person who would be able to exonerate her client. But her career wasn’t all roses, she had her ups and downs and in the writing of her book, she didn’t shy away from talking about those issues – including the impact that such a career has on a personal life.
I believe that Angel of Death Row should be a required reading book for law students, especially those who are maybe considering defending or prosecuting individuals charged with homicide. There is something that everyone could learn from reading it. I’ll be interested to see what derivative recommendations I get based on my reading of the Angel of Death Row.