Monday, April 11, 2011

Slaughter on a Snowy Morn - Colin Evans

Slaughter on a Snowy Morn
by Colin Evans
Icon Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

A true story of conspiracy and the death penalty, Slaughter on a Snowy Morn is a riveting account of a man framed for a double murder which he didn't commit - that of his employer and his housekeeper. Evans goes into intricate detail to construct the events which led German immigrant Charles Stielow to death row at Sing Sing. Against a backdrop of politics, vote garnering and corrupt prosecutors, Stielow faces a looming appointment with the electric chair which is deferred in crucial moments. Relief and apprehension are woven so tightly they appear to be a reflection of each other.

Confessions obtained by torture, an elaborate, unsigned testimony allegedly by Stielow himself - whose vocabulary is extremely limited and whose mental age is likened to that of a child, to racism, media manipulation and testimony from an unreliable forensic expert whose sole task was to incriminate Stielow and the unflinching truth coming from Stielow himself - he was innocent.

A group of activists and lawyers with the means to exert influence start campaigning for his release. The characters are in great contrast with each other, especially Thomas Matt Osborne, the warden at Sing Sing who is a staunch opponent of the death penalty and eventually faces some fabricated charges himself. Conscience battles with prestige and electoral promise, eventually leading Governor Whitman to issue a pardon.

Forensic techniques aside, Evans captures the brutal character of a law that turns a blind eye to, or fails to recognise corruption within its parameters. A reminder that justice and its upholders at times reveal a sinister visage that lies beneath the eloquent rhetoric of safeguarding society. An affirmation that pardon did not reflect an administration of justice in this case. The corruption that justice seeks to eliminate is embedded within its own system.

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