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W&L Law’s Peppers New Book Chronicles Life of Famed Death Penalty Opponent

“My goal in writing the book was not only to shine a spotlight on her sacrifices, but to introduce new readers to the “machinery of death” which continues to grind across our country.”

Marie DeansMarie Deans

Todd Peppers, a visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University, has a new book out chronicling the life of Marie Deans, a well-known death penalty abolitionist and activist who worked for prisoner rights in South Carolina and Virginia.

The book, titled “A Courageous Fool:  Marie Deans and Her Struggle against the Death Penalty,” is based on the manuscript of a memoir that Deans began before her death from lung cancer in 2011. Working with former student and research assistant Margaret Anderson, Peppers devoted six years to complete the book, which includes archival photography of Deans, death row convicts, prison officials and the prisons where she spent countless hours of her life.

Related Event:
Todd Peppers Book Talk; Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 4:00 p.m. in Classroom B, Lewis Hall

A native of South Carolina, Deans became involved in death penalty work after the murder of her mother-in-law. She soon founded Victims’ Families for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and after moving to Richmond in 1983, she started the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons. She ran the organization for 10 years, becoming one of the most vocal advocates for Virginia’s death row inmates. Her work included finding lawyers, improving prison conditions, and working on appeals as a mitigation specialist. Deans also became the friend and confidant to many death row inmates, and she stood watch for more than 30 men as they were put to death.

“Marie is one of the unsung heroes in the fight to bring justice and humanity to the condemned men of Virginia’s death row,” says Peppers. “My goal in writing the book was not only to shine a spotlight on her sacrifices, but to introduce new readers to the “machinery of death” which continues to grind across our country.”

Todd PeppersTodd Peppers

As a mitigation specialist, Deans’ hard work helped spare over 250 inmates from a sentence of death. Leading scholars and death penalty advocates have praised Peppers’ book as “a riveting story” and “a compelling account” of her life and work.

Peppers is a professor of political science in the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia as well as a visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. As a researcher and author, he writes about judicial institutions, legal history, and capital punishment. He is also the author of “Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas.” In addition, Peppers has written extensively on the influence of law clerks on the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including the book “Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk” and two collections of stories of Supreme Court law clerks and their justices titled “In Chambers.”

Related:

Commentary: Marie Deans’ struggle against the death penalty (Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 2017)

Article: From the Archives: Roanoke College professor helps to finish book for death penalty activist after her death (Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 2017)