It takes a special breed of attorney to devote a career to defending those facing the death penalty, and WVU journalism professor John Temple was intrigued by those who spend their life dealing with death.
The result is Temple’s second book, “The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates,” published this week by University Press of Mississippi.
“The Last Lawyer” is the true story of a law firm’s fight to save a death row inmate and how an idealistic attorney, Ken Rose, and his diverse band of investigators and lawyers fight to overturn their client’s death sentence. The book chronicles Rose’s decade-long defense of Bo Jones, a North Carolina farmhand convicted of a 1987 murder.
“There are other books about death penalty cases, but I wanted to focus on the legal minds and personalities who devote their lives to this work,” Temple said. “The characters and stories I came across were even more compelling and inspiring than I’d imagined.”
In recognition of the book’s debut, the WVU College of Law and the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism will co-host a panel discussion, “The Last Lawyer: A Conversation About Justice, Journalism, and the Death Penalty,” Nov. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the WVU Law Center’s Marlyn E. Lugar Courtroom. The panel will be moderated by WVU College of Law Dean Joyce E. McConnell and will focus on the case covered in the book, issues surrounding the morality and constitutionality of the death penalty and the journalistic process. Panelists include Temple; the book’s central figure, death penalty attorney Ken Rose; West Virginia appellate lawyer, Lonnie Simmons; and sentencing mitigation expert Jay T. McCamic.
The event, which will include a Q&A session, is open to the public. A book signing and light refreshments will follow.
Temple is an associate professor and associate dean at the School of Journalism. He spent five years as a behind-the-scenes reporter for “The Last Lawyer,” following the case and the setbacks and triumphs Rose’s team faced as they gradually unearthed evidence to help save their client’s life.
Rose is one of the few U.S. attorneys who has almost exclusively represented death row inmates his entire career. While working the case featured in “The Last Lawyer,” Rose also built the North Carolina-based nonprofit law firm, The Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which is dedicated to representing capital defendants and assisting attorneys representing persons charged or convicted in capital cases.
Simmons, a 1982 WVU College of Law alumnus, is widely recognized as one of the first lawyers in the country to use DNA testing to free an innocent person from prison. Simmons has successfully prosecuted a substantial number of appeals before the West Virginia Supreme Court, including appeals of wrongful death verdicts, employment discrimination claims, personal injury actions and criminal convictions.
McCamic is president of McCamic, Sacco, Pizzuti & McCoid, PLLC, based in Wheeling, W.Va., and is a 1984 graduate of the WVU College of Law. He was the Federal Criminal Justice Act Resource Counsel for the Northern District of West Virginia until the appointment of a Federal Public Defender in the Northern District. Since 1996, he has been the Criminal Justice Act District Representative for the Northern District of West Virginia. He has been involved in Federal Death Penalty litigation in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, has been designated as “learned counsel” in death penalty matters and has tried federal death penalty cases to verdict in both jurisdictions.
McConnell, the William J. Maier Jr. Dean and Thomas R. Goodwin Professor of Law at the WVU College of Law, said Temple’s book provides a window into the “tragically flawed” death penalty system.
“In ‘The Last Lawyer,’ John Temple chronicles a real lawyer’s struggle to free a wrongfully convicted man whom most would have ignored,” said McConnell. “By taking us along on this journey, Temple creates a legal thriller that reads like fiction, but is real. As Ken Rose struggles to defend Bo Jones against the odds, we experience the highs and the lows of death penalty defense.”
CONTACT: Kimberly Brown, School of Journalism
304-293-3505, ext. 5403