New Book from W&L Law’s Peppers Chronicles Work of Death Row Chaplain Part memoir/part biography, the book tells the story of the Reverend Russ Ford, who served as the head chaplain on Virginia’s death row for eighteen years.
Todd Peppers, a visiting professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law and the Henry H. and Trudye H. Fowler Professor of Public Affairs at Roanoke College, has a new book out in March that gives new insight into capital punishment in Virginia.
The book, titled “Crossing the River Styx: The Memoir of a Death Row Chaplain,” is part memoir/part biography and tells the story of the Reverend Russ Ford, who served as the head chaplain on Virginia’s death row for eighteen years while ministering to the men condemned to die. Virginia abolished the death penalty in 2021.
Ford stood watch with twenty-eight men in the 1980s and 1990s, sitting with them in the death house during the final days and hours of their lives. So committed to his task was Ford that in July 1990 he accidentally almost became the 245th person killed by Virginia’s electric chair as he comforted Ricky Boggs in his last moments, a harrowing tale the opens the book.
Peppers served as a co-author of the book along with his son, Charles, a writer and educator.
“Many chaplains get to know the condemned men only in these final moments,” said Peppers. “Ford, however, spent years working with the men of Virginia’s death row, forging close bonds with them and developing a nuanced understanding of their crimes, their early struggles, and their challenges behind bars.”
This book continues a core area of Peppers’ research—capital punishment. In 2017 he published “A Courageous Fool: Marie Deans and Her Fight against the Death Penalty,” which chronicled the life of a well-known death penalty abolitionist and activist who worked for prisoner rights in South Carolina and Virginia. In 2009, he published “Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas,” which tells the story of one of the last juvenile offenders to be put to death before the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juveniles constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
In addition to his work on capital punishment, Peppers has written extensively on the influence of law clerks on the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including the books “Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk,” and “Of Courtiers & Kings: More Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices” as well as a collection of stories of Supreme Court law clerks and their justices titled “In Chambers.”
“Crossing the River Styx: The Memoir of a Death Row Chaplain” will be published by the University of Virginia Press in March on the two-year anniversary of Virginia’s abolition of the death penalty.
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