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From Death Row To A Family Pet: 'Things I've Learned From Dying'


Texas Matters: Law professor and author David Dow has had a unique experience with death and has compiled those diverse experiences into a new book. As an attorney, Dow has been part of over 100 cases where those on trial were facing death row, defending -- often unsuccessfully -- those who are facing their own end and who are coming to terms with what that means for their loved ones. Dow uses those experiences along with the death of people close to his family to give a look into the way relationships transform in the face of death.

University of Houston law professor David Dow has been part of over 100 death row cases -- with the bulk of them ending in executions.

At the UH Law Center, Dow runs a death penalty clinic in which law students assist in the representation of inmates facing execution. He is also the founder and director of the state’s oldest innocence project, the Texas Innocence Network.

Dow often got to know the families of those he represented, as well as the families of murder victims, and someone he was close to was also murdered. The accumulation of all those experiences and more have been compiled to form a compelling book about life.

Dow has written a new book, "Things I’ve Learned from Dying."

"I have experience on both sides of the homicide equation -- if it can be called that -- so I think that I thought that I knew everything there was to know about death and about the sorts of emotion that are associated with it. And what I learned, and one of the reasons I wanted to write the book, is that I really couldn't have been more wrong. I had two experiences that I write about in the book that taught me a whole lot of things that I didn't know."

The first event was when Dow's father-in-law died of Melanoma at the age of 60 and the other is when his dog died, an experience many of us can relate with. Dow connects the similarities that bind all these experiences together and what we learn about humanity and relationships in the face of immanent death.

"My wife was very, very close to her father, they had a very close and loving and wonderful relationship and during the almost two years between the time he was diagnosed with Melanoma and the time he finally died from it, their relationship was altered and affected in ways that were very noticeable. I think what was extraordinary to me was that at the same time my client, who I represented for about seven years -- once he got an execution date, his relationship with his daughter, who had not had any contact with him for many years, was also affected in, I don't want to say the same way, but in  similar ways. It made me start thinking about the way that immanent death alters relationships in ways that can be sad, I think, but can also be desirable in some ways."

The State of Texas and the death penalty

Texas saw its 500th execution in 2013 and it didn’t stop there. By year's end the total was 508 inmates put to death since 1982 when Texas resumed executions. Sixteen inmates were executed last year in the state, up from 15 in 2012.

Nationally, Texas led the nation in executions and accounted for 42 percent of all executions in 2013.

Also in 2013, Texas saw the release of a 500-page report from the American Bar Association calling for reforms to the Texas capital punishment system in order to prevent more wrongful executions.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi