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Wrongful Death Sentences: Rethinking Justice in Capital Cases

Cathleen Burnett
Wrongful Death Sentences: Rethinking Justice in Capital Cases
ISBN: 978-1-58826-716-0
2010/188 pages/LC: 2010000223
Also of interest:  Race and Justice: Wrongful Convictions of African American Men by Marvin Free, Jr. and Mitch Ruesink
"This thought-provoking book provides a reconceptualization and broadening of the concept of innocence in capital cases."—Talia Roitberg Harmon, Criminal Justice Review

"Burnett's book makes an important contribution to the literature on capital punishment and on wrongful conviction."——C. Ronald Huff, Criminal Law Bulletin

"A sobering critique of the criminal justice procedures used to adjudicate guilt in capital cases."—Contemporary Sociology

"Burnett fills an important gap in our understanding of innocence and the death penalty."—Susan Sharp, University of Oklahoma  

"A very important work…. Burnett gives voice to the hundreds—thousands—incarcerated in prisons and on death rows across the US because of rigid legal processes that insist on the most narrow possible constructions of innocence."—Saundra D. Westervelt, UNC-Greensboro

"Engaging and important.... Burnett makes a significant contribution to the field."—Sylvia I. Mignon, Humanity & Society


What acts truly deserve the death penalty? And how equitably do we apply this ultimate punishment? Cathleen Burnett explores wrongful capital sentencing to offer a sober yet searing critique of the criminal justice procedures and legal criteria involved.

Highlighting problems such as the elicitation of false confessions, prosecutors who choose to ignore mitigating factors, and Supreme Court decisions that limit appeals, Burnett shows why those accused of capital crimes frequently fail to receive a fair hearing. Her rigorous and measured analysis underscores the crucial importance of the presumption of innocence in our society’s pursuit of justice.


Cathleen Burnett is associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is author of Justice Denied: Clemency Appeals in Death Penalty Cases.


  • The Construction of Innocence: Introduction of a New Framework
  • Actual Innocence.
  • False Confessions and False Guilty Pleas.
  • The Accomplice.
  • Self-Defense.
  • State of Mind.
  • The Spectrum of Innocence: Focusing on Behavior.