Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas

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9781555537135: Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas

It is an undisputed fact that Chris Thomas was guilty of participating in a brutal double homicide. He was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s parents in November of 1990, was sentenced to death in November of 1991, and was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia in January of 2000. Chris Thomas was one of the last juvenile offenders to be put to death before the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juveniles constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In Anatomy of an Execution, Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson tell the entire story, shedding light on issues surrounding the death penalty—such as the quality of court appointed counsel, the execution of juveniles (from both a constitutional law and public policy perspective), conditions of confinement on death row, and the role of spiritual advisors in the condemned’s last days. While providing insight into the legal workings of the modern death penalty system, the book also offers a rare glimpse of a young, condemned man’s life before and after the crime: a childhood ravaged by loss and neglect, a toxic first love, the brutal murders, trial and sentencing, and, ultimately, a chance at redemption. This is not an effort to excuse a crime but an assertion that even a murderer’s life is worth more than its worst act.

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About the Author:

TODD C. PEPPERS is an associate professor in the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, and a lecturer in law at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia. He is the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. LAURA TREVVETT ANDERSON was Chris Thomas’s high school teacher, corresponded with him extensively while on death row, and served as his spiritual advisor during his final days in the death house.

From The Washington Post:

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Colman McCarthy In a 5 to 4 opinion delivered on March 1, 2005, by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court ruled that executing minors convicted of capital murder was "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. In Roper v. Simmons, Kennedy argued that citizens under 18 are less culpable than adult murderers: "Their own vulnerability and comparative lack of control over their immediate surroundings means juveniles have a greater claim than adults to be forgiven for failing to escape negative influences in their whole environment." Translation from legalese to lingo: Screwing up, messing up and getting mixed up happen when you are under 18. Roper v. Simmons came too late for the 22 juvenile offenders killed in the mostly Southern death-belt states since the court's reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. Among them was Douglas Christopher Thomas, drugged to death on Jan. 10, 2000, in Virginia's Greensville Correctional Center for the 1990 murder, at age 17, of his 14-year-old girlfriend's parents in their Middlesex County, Va., bedroom. If anyone's life epitomized Kennedy's belief in mercy for those "failing to escape negative influences," it was Thomas's. Abandoned at separate times by an ineffectual mother and a no-account father, he was legally adopted in early childhood by loving grandparents. Eleven years old when they died months apart, the unmoored Thomas was described by a school psychologist as "seriously emotionally disturbed." Among those attempting to rescue the boy -- who in high school was drinking alcohol, smoking pot, pilfering, breaking into houses, skipping class and earning dismal grades -- was Laura Trevvett Anderson. She was Thomas's special education teacher at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian, Va. Anderson's friendship would last until Thomas's final moments of life in the Greensville death chamber. With co-author Todd C. Peppers, a professor at Roanoke College and a lecturer at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, she has written an encompassing and often soulful account of the brief life of a person who was both victimizer and victim, friendless and befriended. No sentimentalizing is to be found in these pages of well-documented and carefully crafted prose. "We do not argue," the authors write, "that Chris Thomas was so overcome with forces beyond his control that he was not morally responsible for the terrible criminal acts in which he participated. At a basic level, Chris's choice to partake in a plot to kill Jessica Wiseman's parents was the product of free will and self-interest." His decision to kill "was the product of rational choice." Convicted of capital murder -- a jury verdict that surprised the prosecutor -- Thomas was entombed for eight years in the world of mental illness, cruelty and subdued chaos that is death row. In Chapter 5, "Life on the Row," the authors describe the work of Marie Deans, a prisoners rights advocate who founded the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons in 1983 and later the Virginia Mitigation Project. For nearly three decades, she has been the firewall between prosecutors hellbent for executions and impoverished inmates whose death sentences she sees as arbitrary, baseless and inhumane. Deans, who deserves a biography of her own, brings to both the pre-conviction and post-conviction parts of a murder trial evidence on the defendant's background that argues against a death sentence. Her success rate is astonishing: In the first 20 years of working on more than 200 capital trials, only two of "her" defendants have been executed. Thomas might be alive today had his trial lawyers accepted Deans's pro-bono offer to be a mitigation expert. They declined. Recalling her many prison interviews with Thomas -- appeals lawyers brought her in -- Deans told the authors: "I did feel motherly toward Chris. People think I feel motherly toward all the men [on the row] and that's not true. Some of those men I didn't really like, much less want to be their mother. I did feel motherly to him. I couldn't help that with Chris. He was my son's age. He was just a kid." A major addition to death-penalty literature, what Peppers and Anderson tell about one inmate in one state in one cell block could easily be the story of any of the 3,200 people now stashed on the nation's death rows. The story of Chris Thomas is unique only because two educators chose not to let it be forgotten that he was a human being. They saw him as more than his crime. bookworld@washpost.com
Copyright 2010, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description Northeastern University Press, United States, 2009. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. It is an undisputed fact that Chris Thomas was guilty of participating in a brutal double homicide. He was convicted of killing his girlfriend s parents in November of 1990, was sentenced to death in November of 1991, and was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia in January of 2000. Chris Thomas was one of the last juvenile offenders to be put to death before the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juveniles constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In Anatomy of an Execution, Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson tell the entire story, shedding light on issues surrounding the death penalty--such as the quality of court appointed counsel, the execution of juveniles (from both a constitutional law and public policy perspective), conditions of confinement on death row, and the role of spiritual advisors in the condemned s last days. While providing insight into the legal workings of the modern death penalty system, the book also offers a rare glimpse of a young, condemned man s life before and after the crime: a childhood ravaged by loss and neglect, a toxic first love, the brutal murders, trial and sentencing, and, ultimately, a chance at redemption. This is not an effort to excuse a crime but an assertion that even a murderer s life is worth more than its worst act. Bookseller Inventory # AAJ9781555537135

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Book Description Northeastern University Press, United States, 2009. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. It is an undisputed fact that Chris Thomas was guilty of participating in a brutal double homicide. He was convicted of killing his girlfriend s parents in November of 1990, was sentenced to death in November of 1991, and was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia in January of 2000. Chris Thomas was one of the last juvenile offenders to be put to death before the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juveniles constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In Anatomy of an Execution, Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson tell the entire story, shedding light on issues surrounding the death penalty--such as the quality of court appointed counsel, the execution of juveniles (from both a constitutional law and public policy perspective), conditions of confinement on death row, and the role of spiritual advisors in the condemned s last days. While providing insight into the legal workings of the modern death penalty system, the book also offers a rare glimpse of a young, condemned man s life before and after the crime: a childhood ravaged by loss and neglect, a toxic first love, the brutal murders, trial and sentencing, and, ultimately, a chance at redemption. This is not an effort to excuse a crime but an assertion that even a murderer s life is worth more than its worst act. Bookseller Inventory # AAJ9781555537135

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