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Confessions of an Innocent Man

Review

Confessions of an Innocent Man

David R. Dow’s debut novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN, introduces readers to Rafael Zhettah. Rafael is the Mexican-American owner and head chef of a restaurant in Houston, and the pilot of his own plane. He is married and much in love with his wife, who is bludgeoned to death early in the book. Following his arrest, Rafael is found guilty of her murder and is sent to death row. That is where the first half of this procedural takes off.

Rafael’s journey through the legal system and his ultimate landing on death row is the mirror image of the author’s career. Dow is “the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network, which works to exonerate inmates who did not commit the crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted, and the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project.” His work with these agencies gives him a rare view of the criminal justice system and its shortfalls.

"CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN is very realistic, and readers will find themselves questioning if death row can be made better in any way --- not as a reward to the guilty, but to make it less stressful for the innocent."

Why should someone on death row be given a second chance? The answer is found within these pages. Sometimes the inmate truly is innocent and the real perpetrator is found. The book raises many questions about the who, what, when and where of the crimes that have been committed and how fastidious the investigation was. Dow is clearly in the corner of the death row convict, and as the narrative unfolds, readers are challenged to think about whether or not the death penalty should be repealed.

How does Dow manage to work with clients wherein “the outcome will be devastating”? In an interview with his publisher, Dow says he cannot walk away from the people for whom he is working. “Often I think what drives me to continue is the belief that our legal or moral position is so strong, that we will in fact win.” He believes that being locked up and under the control of the prison rules and guards can lead to hopelessness and sometimes madness, which is rampant among death row inmates who wait for years to be executed.

The second half of the novel delves into the machinations of the appeal system, including how difficult it is to open a death row case, even when exculpatory evidence, like finding DNA long after the fact, is unearthed. It often comes down to not wanting to spend time or money on a closed case that holds up the finding that possibly an innocent person has been locked up.

CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN is very realistic, and readers will find themselves questioning if death row can be made better in any way --- not as a reward to the guilty, but to make it less stressful for the innocent. Dow says that “all the characters in the book, from inmates to judges to lawyers to prison guards to family members, are characters I could easily conjure up because I have met and gotten to know versions of those people in my professional life.”

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on April 12, 2019

Confessions of an Innocent Man
by David R. Dow

  • Publication Date: April 9, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN-10: 1524743887
  • ISBN-13: 9781524743888