Bessler, John D. 1967-

views updated

BESSLER, John D. 1967-

PERSONAL: Born 1967, in Muncie, IN. Education: University of Minnesota, B.A. (political science), 1988; Indiana University at Bloomington School of Law, J.D., 1991.

ADDRESSES: Office—Kelly & Berens, P.A., IDS Center, 80 South Eighth St., Ste. 3720, Minneapolis, MN 55402. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Lawyer and professor. Faegre & Benson, Minneapolis, MN, associate, 1991-96; Leonard, Street & Deinard, Minneapolis, MN, associate, 1996; U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Mason, Minneapolis, law clerk, 1996-98; Kelly & Berens, Minneapolis, partner, 1998—. University of Minnesota School of Law, adjunct professor, 1998—.

MEMBER: Minnesota Bar Association.


Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1998.

Kiss of Death: America's Love Affair with the Death Penalty, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 2002.

Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: John D. Bessler is a practicing attorney and law professor whose writing focuses on issues surrounding capital punishment in America. A vocal opponent of the death penalty, he examines its role in society in an historical, sociological, and political context. Of specific interest to Bessler is the privatization of executions in the United States. He argues in favor of televised executions, which he asserts would educate the public about the humanitarian concerns surrounding the death penalty and might lead to its eventual abolition.

In his first book, Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, Bessler chronicles the history of executions in America, analyzing the nation's transition from public town hangings to nighttime executions closed to the public. Arguing against keeping executions private on both constitutional and moral grounds, Bessler ends by discussing recent developments in capital punishment law and attempts to televise executions. The book attracted a great deal of attention from critics of the popular and legal press. Writing in the Nation, Michael Mello observed: "Bessler argues persuasively that executions ought to be televised, not because televising them would reduce or increase support for capital punishment—there's no way to know that in advance—but because they are important governmental acts." In a review in Northwestern University's Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Leigh Beinen called the book "an extended and subtle argument for opening the execution process up to public scrutiny…. The book is addressed to lawyers, law students, and the legally sophisticated, but the discussion is easily accessible to a general public now familiar with legal technicalities from cases such as O. J. Simpson's." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, found the book potentially less appealing to a popular audience, writing that it "suffers from a numbing redundancy as Bessler goes through state after state comparing statutes and court rulings."

In Kiss of Death: America's Love Affair with the Death Penalty Bessler returns to the topic of the death penalty, arguing strongly against the practice of capital punishment. Frances Sandiford, in Library Journal, remarked, "Most of [Bessler's] arguments are familiar to death penalty opponents. What sets his book apart is Bessler's style and personal intensity. Whereas other writers use statistics and cold facts, Bessler quotes passages from literature and tells poignant stories from his own experiences as a pro bono lawyer for death row inmates in Texas." Sandiford also noted that "Bessler makes no concessions to the opposing viewpoint," and speculated that "his fervent outrage may even sway some people who are not already convinced."

Bessler's subsequent work, Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota, chronicles the history of the death penalty in Minnesota, a state that ultimately abolished it. It questions the practice of capital punishment asking the reader to consider Minnesota, if the state benefited from making capital punishment illegal, and suggesting its relevance to the issue of death penalty law in other states.



American Journal of Legal History, July, 1998, Herbert H. Haines, review of Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, pp. 344-345.

Columbia Human Rights Law Review, summer, 1998, Taylor Young Hong, "Televised Executions and Restoring Accountability to the Death Penalty Debate," pp. 787-823.

Economist, February 14, 1998, review of Death in the Dark, p. 3

Law and History Review, spring, 2001, Francis A. Allen, review of Death in the Dark, pp. 227-230.

Library Journal, May 1, 2003, review of Kiss of Death: America's Love Affair with the Death Penalty, pp. 136-137.

Nation, October 27, 1997, Michael Mello, review of Death in the Dark, pp. 27-30.

Northwestern University Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, winter, 1999, review of Death in the Dark.

Publishers Weekly, October 27, 1997, review of Death in the Dark, p. 78.*

About this article

Bessler, John D. 1967-

Updated About content Print Article