Jennifer Reese
January 24, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Both transparently manipulative and genuinely moving, Robert North Patterson’s overlong legal thriller makes an emotional case against the death penalty. The corpse of a 9-year-old girl is found floating in San Francisco Bay after she apparently (brace yourself) choked to death on semen. Two young black men, Rennell and Payton Price, are arrested, handily convicted, and sentenced to death. Fifteen years later, attorney Terri Paget steps in to save Rennell, who is not only very likely innocent but also mildly retarded, asexual, and lovable — a giant, misunderstood teddy bear. Conviction bogs down in descriptions of byzantine legal technicalities, but it is impossible not to keep reading — or skimming — to the last page.

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