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The Last Lawyer - The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates

The Last Lawyer

The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates

By John Temple
Paperback : 9781496809131, 246 pages, December 2015
Hardcover : 9781604733556, 224 pages, September 2009

The story of a tireless legal Samaritan and his warfare on the injustice of capital punishment


The Last Lawyer is the true, inside story of how an idealistic legal genius and his diverse band of investigators and fellow attorneys fought to overturn a client's final sentence.

Ken Rose has handled more capital appeals cases than almost any other attorney in the United States. The Last Lawyer chronicles Rose's decade-long defense of Bo Jones, a North Carolina farmhand convicted of a 1987 murder. Rose called this his most frustrating case in twenty-five years, and it was one that received scant attention from judges or journalists. The Jones case bares the thorniest issues surrounding capital punishment. Inadequate legal counsel, mental retardation, mental illness, and sketchy witness testimony stymied Jones's original defense. Yet for many years, Rose's advocacy gained no traction, and Bo Jones came within three days of his execution.

The book follows Rose through a decade of setbacks and small triumphs as he gradually unearthed the evidence he hoped would save his client's life. At the same time, Rose also single-handedly built a nonprofit law firm that became a major force in the death penalty debate raging across the South.

The Last Lawyer offers unprecedented access to the inner workings of a capital defense team. Based on four-and-a half years of behind-the-scenes reporting by a journalism professor and nonfiction author, The Last Lawyer tells the unforgettable story of a lawyer's fight for justice.


For years, lawyer Ken Rose has fought to save wrongly-condemned prisoners; chronicling the story of Rose and death row inmate Bo Jones, author Temple (Deadhouse: Life in a Coroner's Office) finds high drama in Raleigh penitentiaries, North Carolina backroads, cramped law offices, and sweltering courtrooms. Reviewing the original 1987 murder, the consequent trials and endless hearings, Temple creates an intimate portrait of Rose and his Center for Death Penalty Litigation as they trudge through a decade of work on this case, a typical example that pits the odds and public opinion against them: 'To question capital punishment was to appear soft on crime. . . In court, one well-known district attorney sported a golden lapel pin shaped like a hangman's noose. ' Ultimately, Temple's account is a stand-up-and-cheer account of one man standing up for justice.

- Publishers Weekly

John Temple's The Last Lawyer is a compulsively readable indictment of a fatally flawed system. It reads like first-class legal fiction, but it's far more compelling because it is, tragically, legal fact.

- Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald and author of the novel, Before I Forget