Cover image for Proximity to death
Proximity to death
McFeely, William S.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2000]

Physical Description:
206 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF221.M8 M39 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



On a misty September morning in rural Georgia, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian found himself cast in a role that he had never imagined for himself: an expert witness in the sentencing trial of a convicted kidnapper, rapist, and murderer. His brief testimony that day would ultimately lead him on a personal journey into the criminal justice system, to confront the actions and decisions of lawyers battling for and against the death penalty, convicts whose lives are at stake, and jurors forced to decide who shall live and who shall die.

Author Notes

McFeely has written the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Grant, as well as other important works of history. He lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Civil War historian McFeely recounts in detail several death sentences that were appealed by a group of poorly funded lawyers in Georgia. They called in McFeely as an expert witness on the history of the Confederate battle flag's incorporation into the state flag, contending it conveys a racist message to the state's blacks. McFeely thereby got interested in their crusade, which was the impetus for this book. Although their clients are almost certainly guilty of murder, the lawyers search tirelessly for arguments that death ought not be their lot. Along with admiring descriptions of the lawyers, McFeely sympathetically narrates their pleas for commutation to life: one client had a physically abusive childhood; another seemed rueful and rehabilitated in prison; a third discovered after his conviction and death sentence that blacks had purposely been kept off his jury. The morality of capital punishment aside, McFeely's ventures into the engine room of its legal machinery create an impression of capriciousness in its application. An earnest, ruminative protest. --Gilbert Taylor

Table of Contents

Prefacep. 9
Acknowledgmentsp. 11
1. A Georgia Courthousep. 17
2. The Grand Dragonp. 24
3. Athensp. 41
4. 83 Poplar Streetp. 56
5. Birmingham, Alabamap. 73
6. Death in Columbusp. 84
7. The Underground Railroadp. 102
8. William Brooksp. 109
9. Phillips State Prisonp. 125
10. Morgan County Courthousep. 143
11. "Just Plain Mean"p. 162
12. Jimmy Autry State Prisonp. 176
13. Across Georgiap. 183
Notesp. 189
Indexp. 199