Saint on Death Row Book Review

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green by Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill has written a number of books on history, including How the Irish Saved Civilization, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, and Mystery of the Middle Ages. His newest book A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green is definitely his most heart wrenching book. Cahill met Dominique Green in 2003, when Dominique was an inmate living in solitary confinement on Death Row in Huntsville, Texas. Cahill was on a book tour when he met Sheila Murphy, a retired judge from Chicago, who convinced Cahill to visit Dominique while he was touring in the Houston area. Reluctantly, Cahill agreed to do so. Cahill’s encounter with Dominique compelled him to join Murphy’s fierce fight for Dominique’s life, even enlisting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the battle.

Dominique Green was born in Houston, Texas to a poor, dysfunctional family. At age 18, Dominique was arrested and charged with capital murder for the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery. Green may have taken part in the robbery, but he always insisted that he did not pull the trigger. He refused, however, to implicate anyone else in the murder, although it is unclear if he knew who may have committed it. What Cahill makes clear, however, is that Green had such poor legal representation and his case was filled with so many legal errors that he should not have been convicted, much less put to death.

A Saint on Death Row is the story of these injustices, but it is also the story of a young man who made such an impact on Cahill that he felt driven to tell his story. In Dominique, Cahill found a remarkable human being with a level of goodness, peace, and enlightenment that few human beings ever attain. During the twelve years he spent on Texas Death Row, Dominique attempted to have his conviction and sentence overturned. According to Cahill, he also grew from a neglected and abused boy to a man of stature, a man of learning and wisdom. He read many books including Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness. That book made a big impression on Dominique and he subsequently realized that forgiveness was the path he and his fellow inmates needed to take. Under his leadership, many of the inmates on Texas Death Row forgave anyone who had harmed them and, as much as they could, sought forgiveness from those they had harmed.

A visit from Archbishop Tutu in March, 2004 brought some media attention to the cause to have his conviction and sentence overturned. After meeting Dominique, Tutu was quoted that he “is a remarkable advertisement for God.” Despite obvious errors in the legal procedures, protests of the victim’s family, and media attention, the attempts to appeal Dominique’s sentence failed. On October 26, 2004, Dominique Green, age 30, was executed by lethal injection.

Cahill admits that he was once in favor of the death penalty, though he had never thought deeply about it or really studied the issues surrounding it. He had already changed his opinion prior to meeting Dominique, after reading stories of the fallibility of the system. He states that after coming to know Dominique he is left with no doubt that the death penalty is unjust and immoral.

A Saint on Death Row is a deeply moving account of a tragedy that should not have happened. This tragic tale of racism, poverty and the death penalty is told from a personal encounter that changed the author and will also change the reader.