By KASEY DOYLE/News editor

Her client did not answer. Maybe, Terri thought, he did not believe her. Even when she stood to leave, he did not look up.Only as the guard approached did Rennell Price speak again, his voice quiet but insistent.

“I didn’t do that little girl,” he told his lawyer.

“Conviction” by Richard North Patterson uses a fictional story to investigate the death penalty and how the innocent sometimes slip through the cracks in the justice system.

The novel focuses on Rennell Price, a black man from Bayview, Calif., who is 59 days away from his execution.

Fifteen years earlier, Price and his brother, Payton, were found guilty for the sexual abuse and murder of a 9-year-old Asian girl.

Rennell and Payton Price’s conviction has been upheld through several appeals, but Attorney Terri Paget believes Rennell may be innocent and that the real killer is still free.

Paget begins an investigation into the life of Rennell Price and the trial that sent him to death row.

She recreates the events that put Rennell on death row – sorting through trial manuscripts, police reports and interviews.

Paget finds that Rennell’s early childhood was full of physical, mental and sexual abuse, and Paget believes Rennell may have mental disabilities.

Paget struggles with the evidence, trying to prove Rennell’s innocence or prove he is mentally retarded. Both will keep him from a death by lethal injection.

Rennell will not discuss the murder, and all he will say is, “I didn’t do that little girl.”

Rennell’s brother, Payton, is scheduled to die before Rennell, and he shares a side of the story that could absolve Rennell of all guilt.

According to Payton, another man, not Rennell, helped him commit the crime, but Payton’s confession may be too late to save Rennell from death.

Paget scrambles to contact witnesses to prove that Rennell is innocent of the crime. She prepares for one last appeal, but time is running out, and Paget’s doubt about Rennell’s involvement in the crime may not be enough to stop his execution.

“Conviction” is an emotional story about one woman’s struggle to find truth before an innocent man is unlawfully put to death.

It raises the question of whether the death penalty is a justifiable way to punish individuals for their crimes, and it takes a fictional look at both sides of the issue. It also gives the reader an in-depth look at the investigation and appeals processes.

The characters are also well-created and complex, especially the character of Terri Paget, who struggles with trying to free a convicted murderer and sex offender, when her own child is a victim of sex crimes.

I give “Conviction” four and a half out of five palettes because I couldn’t put it down after reading the first page.

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