Discussion Guide

Back From The Dead:
One woman’s search for the men who walked
off America’s death row

Written by Joan M. Cheever

• Category: True Crime; New Nonfiction, Law and Criminology
• Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
• Released: July 11, 2006
• Price: $24.95
• ISBN: 0470017503
• Imprint: John Wiley & Sons

Reader’s Guide
1. If you were asked to witness an execution, would you? Why or why not? What would you have done to prepare yourself? Do you think Joan Cheever made the right decision (as a mother, lawyer and journalist) to witness Walter’s execution.? Did you think Walter should have been executed?

2. What do you think Walter would have done if he had been released from prison? What would it have taken to get there, for him? What did he need in order to be “successful” on the outside? Do you think that rehabilitation is possible?

3. Although it wasn’t the law at the time of Walter’s execution, if you were a juror and had been presented the alternative of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole, would you have supported the death penalty in Walter’s case? Or not? Why or why not?

4. What scenes and images in the book stand out for you?

5. Do you see any changes in Joan Cheever throughout the book? What are they?

6. Those former Death Row inmates Cheever interviewed expressed remorse for their crimes. Do you believe their remorse was genuine? Does a murderer’s claim of remorse influence your opinion on whether or not he or she should be executed?

7. Who are the most sympathetic characters in the book? Who are the least?

8. What new information about the death penalty did you learn from reading this book? What arguments did you find more persuasive? Less compelling?

9. Has the experience of reading Back From the Dead changed your views of the American criminal justice system? How? What surprised you the most?

10. Were you surprised by the number of former Death Row inmates in this group who were sent back to prison? Did you think it would be higher or lower? Do you think the statistics gathered on The Class of ’72 in the book are relevant to current death penalty cases? Is there something, sociologists, prison officials etc. can learn from this information? What is that?

11. Given Cheever’s statistics and information on this group of individuals who appear to have been rehabilitated, has your feelings on the death penalty changed? How?

12. Of the four common reasons Cheever attributes to the success of those on the outside --– pick the one you think is the most important reason-- Faith, Family, Education or the passage of time?

13. Do you believe victims’ families should have a role or a voice in determining the sentence in a capital case? Should they have a role in the clemency process? Why or why not? Does the human need for revenge justify the imposition of capital punishment?

14. How does healing come to families grieving the loss of a murdered child? How can faith communities or groups like The Journey of Hope….From Violence to Healing and Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights help promote healing? Is healing ever possible? Do you think executions bring closure to the victim’s family?

15. How does healing occur for the family members of someone convicted of a capital crime, or executed by the state? How can we, as citizens, help victims’ families in healing?

16. Many death penalty abolitionists believe that capital punishment denies the humanity of the individual and the possibility of rehabilitation. How do you feel about a convicted murderer’s capacity for rehabilitation?

17. Do you feel a convicted murderer can be rehabilitated?

18. What alternatives to the death penalty do you believe are adequate? Is life in prison without the possibility of parole the only alternative, or do you believe that some death row inmates are capable of rehabilitation and re-entry into society?

Copyright © Joan M. Cheever All rights reserved.