By Polly Nelson.(1) New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1994. Pp. 336. $23.00.
1986, a few months after she had joined the distinguished Washington, D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, Polly Nelson, 35 years old and a 1984 graduate of the law school of the University of Minnesota, where she was President of the School's Law Review, accepted a pro bono assignment to participate with other lawyers in the firm in proceedings to save Ted Bundy, serial killer of many young women over a six-year period, from death in Florida's electric chair. (He had first been sentenced to death in 1979, two years before Ms. Nelson entered law school.) The assignment lasted over three years. Her book tells the story of her efforts in vivid and most of the time highly readable fashion. The book is well worth reading for those interested in death penalty issues, or the pathology of psychopaths, or in a candid and revealing partial autobiography of a remarkable woman who turn out to be unsuited for private practice. Her firm told her to find another job after she had completed the assignment and had participated in the expenditure of a million and a half dollars of the firm's funds in extending Bundy's life for three years--about a half million dollars a year.(3)
While the book is not divided into three parts, it is helpful both in reviewing and reading the book to consider it from three different aspects. First, there is the author's detailed description of the legal maneuvers to save her client from the electric chair. Second, much in the book consists of the author's own analysis of her intellectual and emotional development--a search for her own motivations. Finally, the book describes efforts made by Bundy and psychiatrists to explain why this serial, sadistic killer of young women did what he did.
Legal Maneuvering to Defeat the Death Penalty in Florida. This is the most lawyer-like and, to this reviewer, the least interesting part of the book. Bundy had been convicted by the Florida courts in two separate cases of murdering three young women: two in the same incident in a Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in Tallahassee and another woman in Lake City. The two cases were at different stages when Wilmer, Cutler began to act as counsel. This both complicated the situation and gave Bundy's lawyers more opportunities to delay his death.
Perhaps because this reviewer has lived most of his professional life in three jurisdictions, none of which allows the death penalty, he regards the issue much as do Western European lawyers, who are dumbfounded that most Americans still favor capital punishment. Yet there are distinguished American thinkers who have favored it. For example, Edward Levi, former President of the University of Chicago and Attorney General, whose intellectual stature cannot be doubted, favored it for a few types of particularly heinous crimes. But Levi's position was that if the death penalty is to work as a deterrent, it must be imposed both swiftly and...