Chapter One Excerpt
Espy, who greets me at the door, is a tall, thin man in black frame glasses, a polo shirt, khaki pants, and tennis shoes with prim anklet socks. He smiles a lot when he speaks, heavy, preoccupied smiles filled with a mournful irony. "These are the condemned," he says, pointing to the head shots, mug shots, wire photos, and book and magazine clippings, all individually framed, that fill the walls. Many hang at derelict angles, others have a crack in the frame glass, and a few show the yellow discoloration that comes with prints taken too soon from the hypo bath, but there's no mistaking the passion with which they were assembled. - For more of the story, click here.
Solotaroff, a magazine journalist and the author of a book of essays, provides a brief and intelligent narration of the recent legal history of the death penalty, going back to the 1970s. He introduces us to M. Watt Espy, who runs the "unfunded, unaffiliated, one-man attempt to collect every available fact about the American death penalty" known as the Capital Punishment Research Project out of his wood-frame house in Headland, Alabama. Espy, at the time of Last Face's publication, had chronicled the details of 18,812 executions by "hanging, shooting, electrocution, gassing, lethal injection, burning, beheading, entombment, gibbeting, breaking on the wheel, boiling in oil, roasting, drowning," and other means, and can recite from memory dozens of examples of botched executions and the condemned's last words. The conversation with Espy, who comes off as having more a sense of academic detachment than a bent for thrill seeking, nevertheless does much to remind the reader of the strange subculture that has sprung up around murderers in our country. Source