The death penalty has long been a part of best-selling novelist-lawyer Scott Turow's life. The Presumed Innocent author opposed it as a student in the '60s. As a federal prosecutor in the '80s, he decided it was a necessary evil. After working on a death-penalty appeal in the '90s, he realized the system made mistakes. In 2000, he served on an Illinois commission studying death-row reforms. Tonight at 9 pm/ET, CBS airs the second half of his miniseries, Reversible Errors. Based on Turow's 2002 novel about a capital-punishment case, it co-stars William H. Macy, Tom Selleck and Shemar Moore. The film follows a corporate lawyer's last-ditch appeal of a man's murder conviction, while the cop who put the inmate on death row struggles to keep him there.
TV Guide Online: What inspired you to write about the death penalty?
There's a case that was the rough progenitor of Reversible Errors. I represented a guy who was on death row even after another man confessed to the murder that he had been convicted of. [The man was eventually released from prison.] It took about 10 years before I started writing the novel. In the process, my thoughts about the death penalty changed.
TVGO: Does Reversible Errors take a stand on the death penalty?
While I was writing the book, somebody said, "I hope this is going to be the Uncle Tom's Cabin of capital punishment and I went, "That's exactly what I don't want to do!" I really believe in that old saying "If you want to send a message, use Western Union.'"
TVGO: How can you tell the story without alienating both sides of the debate?
In the end, it's more of a love story. I was somewhat mystified by this. I had to ask myself, "Why am I writing a love story when I thought I was writing a book about the maelstrom of emotions around the death penalty?"
TVGO: Do you like this movie version of your book?
Candidly, one of the rights I had was if I didn't like the way things were going, I could have pulled my name off of this. This is a good film. Nobody is going to watch this movie and think less of me as a writer, which is probably what I should be concerned about.
TVGO: Do clients ever seek you out hoping you'll turn their cases into hit novels?
Half a dozen times a week, I get people who contact me saying they have a great story for me. Which is inevitably theirs. About half of them involve people who think the minions of the devil have been conspiring against them in divorce court.
TVGO: Do you think TV does attorneys justice?
In Judging Amy, Amy is a pretty just person. The Dylan McDermott character on The Practice was a good guy. They're all pretty good people, but not without flaws. If you look at where we were 40 years ago, whether it was The Defenders or Perry Mason, those people were paragons. We don't peddle that anymore.
TVGO: Do other lawyers give you a hard time because of your writing career?
If I hear the line "Mr. Turow, a noted writer of fiction..." one more time from opposing counsel, I'm going to lose it.
TVGO: Do you follow today's celebrity criminal cases, like Jacko, Kobe and Martha?
I'll watch these trials coming up. It takes an extraordinary self-absorption and intensity to do those [cases]. You have somebody else's life in your hands — it's a totally amazing experience. Believe me, Michael Jackson is not a case I'd want. I'm very interested in the Kobe Bryant case. I have a feeling this guy's getting screwed. I don't know what happened in that hotel room, and I'm interested in hearing a decent reconstruction of it.