About the Book

It isn’t enough to celebrate the death penalty’s demise. We must learn from it.

When Henry McCollum was condemned to death in 1983 in rural North Carolina, death sentences were commonplace. In 2015, DNA tests set McCollum free. By then, death sentences were as rare as lightning strikes. To most observers this national trend came as a surprise. What changed? Brandon Garrett hand-collected and analyzed national data, looking for causes and implications of this turnaround. End of Its Rope explains what he found, and why the story of who killed the death penalty and how can be the catalyst for criminal justice reform.

No single factor put the death penalty on the road to extinction, Garrett concludes. Death row exonerations fostered rising awareness of errors in death penalty cases, at the same time that a decline in murder rates eroded law-and-order arguments. Defense lawyers radically improved how they litigate death cases when given adequate resources. More troubling, many states replaced the death penalty with what amounts to a virtual death sentence—life without possibility of parole. Today, the death penalty hangs on in a few scattered counties where prosecutors cling to entrenched habits and patterns of racial bias.

The failed death penalty experiment teaches us how inept lawyering, overzealous prosecution, race discrimination, wrongful convictions, and excessive punishments undermine the pursuit of justice. Garrett makes a strong closing case for what a future criminal justice system might look like if these injustices were remedied.

You can watch a video where I talk about the book here and read a UVA Law story describing the book here. A Q&A in the Marshall Project describes the book: "A new book explores the slow demise in the ultimate punishment." A Q&A and video interview in Salon discusses the rise in life sentences, even as death sentences decline.  Here is a podcast of an interview about the book with WINA and a story about the book at the Death Penalty Information Center.  Here is a link to the Criminal InJustice podcast discussing the book. My chair lecture at UVA Law describing the book is available here.

Buy the Book

You can order the book from Harvard U. Press here and on Amazon here.


Read about the book in Inside Higher Ed's preview of fall books.  The first reviews have been published in the Washington Monthly and the New York Journal of Books.

Here are early reviews:

For so long, the death penalty has been a national scandal, infected by ingrained racial bias, grossly incompetent lawyers, botched executions, and innocent people sentenced to death. Garrett tells the remarkable story of how this cloud has lifted and points the way towards obtaining justice in the criminal courts. (Stephen B. Bright, former president and senior counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights)

By digging deep into the data and examining shifts in legal tactics, Brandon Garrett explains why fewer defendants are being sentenced to death and states are carrying out fewer executions. But what makes this book profoundly important is that Garrett also shows how the death penalty's imminent demise creates the opportunity to reform the U.S. criminal justice system so that it is actually just. (David R. Dow, University of Houston Law Center and Rice University)

Garrett has written a must-read book for Supreme Court Justices and Americans alike. The story of our broken death penalty points the way to what it will take to overhaul the justice system. (Kirk Bloodsworth, first American on death row to be exonerated by DNA testing)

Indispensable reading for an understanding of the dramatic, ongoing changes in the role of capital punishment in American law and culture. Brandon Garrett's trenchant analyses, drawing heavily on new county-level data, produce insights that will surprise both death-penalty opponents and proponents. Detailed examination of individual cases and meticulous statistical documentation are interwoven in an easy-to-read style equally accessible to non-professional readers and convincing to pros. By carefully tracing the long shadow that capital punishment casts over the criminal justice system, Garrett points the way to reforms which become possible as that shadow is lifted. (Anthony G. Amsterdam, New York University School of Law)

By any measure, Brandon Garrett is among the top death-penalty scholars in the U.S. today, and any student of the death penalty needs to know his abundant scholarship. (Michael L. Radelet, University of Colorado Boulder)


Visit  to review data on death sentencing in the U.S.

Visit to review data on death sentencing in the U.S.

An Article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, written with Alexander Jakubow and Ankur Desai presents statistical analysis of death sentencing by county and it is available on SSRN here.  A short piece examining attitudes of jurors towards capital cases is available on SSRN here.


Recent op-eds describing the findings and implications of this research include a piece in Time Magazine describing the rise in life without parole sentences, a piece on describing the national decline in crime and its implications, a piece in Slate describing why jurors are increasingly rejecting the death penalty, a Slate piece describing the push for smart on crime reforms, and a piece in the Washington Post describing the persistent innocent problem in death sentencing.