David R. Dow is no stranger to the criminal justice system. As 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, Dow and his team have represented well over 100 death row inmates during their state and federal appeals. Dow’s job is often devastating but he continues this work because he believes that overturning erroneous decisions is possible.
In this Authorlink AUDIO interview, Dow talks about his debut novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN, and explains why he feels the death penalty should be abolished, even for criminals like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.
Dow also discusses why he switched from non-fiction writing to fiction and some of the challenges in his writing journey.
When an evil act is committed, public perception of the suspect is often shaped by the accused person’s background, Dow believes. An accused who has committed other crimes is a bad guy; an upstanding member of the community is a good guy. But what happens when somebody who’s usually perceived as a “good guy”—maybe it’s a judge or police officer—is the one who does the terrible thing? In his heart-wrenching, chilling, psychological novel, out from Dutton on April 9, 2019, Dow questions the societal acceptance of responsibility and justice.
CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN’s protagonist, a Mexican-American chef, Rafael Zhettah is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murder of his wife. Rafael’s story mimics many that Dow has seen in his work. When asked if the work he does sometimes makes him think about quitting, he says: “Whenever I think seriously about quitting, I can’t. Even contemplating walking away makes me feel guilty about abandoning these guys who have been abandoned by others for their entire lives.”
In the audio interview, Dow gives his view about who actually commits evil crimes. If society held everyone responsible for his or her wrongful acts, many more people would find themselves in jail. Instead, we pinpoint certain crimes in our society—and certain people as well—and treat them as much worse than others, he believes.
In his novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN, Dow turns victim and perpetrator designations on their heads, and explores what happens when injustices occur to both those who are guilty as well as those who are innocent—with whom do we sympathize? Whom do we want to help.
The well-written book garnered front cover praise from fellow novelist and friend John Grisham.
About the Author
David R. Dow is the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Rorschach Visiting Professor of History at Rice University. He teaches and writes in the areas of contracts, constitutional law and theory, first amendment, and death penalty law.
At the UH Law Center, Dow runs a death penalty clinic in which law students assist in the representation of inmates facing execution. Over the past twenty years, Dow and his team have represented more than one hundred death row inmates at every stage of their state and federal appeals. He is also the founder and director of Texas’s oldest innocence project, the Texas Innocence Network, an organization that uses UH law students to investigate claims of actual innocence brought by Texas prisoners. In 2014, he started theJuvenile and Capital Advocacy Project, which is also located at the UH Law Center.
The author of six books and scores of scholarly articles, Dow’s work also regularly appears in such popular publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, and The Daily Beast (a more complete list is available on his c.v.). His TED talk on the death penalty has been viewed more than three million times.
Dow’s critically acclaimed memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award and the winner of the 2010 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for nonfiction. His most recent book, Things I’ve Learned From Dying, was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2014.