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Mystery & Drama

Why Write a Novel About Murder? A Bunk on Death Row

An early electric chair. Richeson was executed...

An early electric chair. Richeson was executed in an electric chair on May 21, 1912. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently working on a ”historical fiction’ book with the Edgar Smith murder case as the background for an alternative outcome of the actual events. I’ve been steadily researching and writing for the last five months, and hope to have it completed by midyear 2015. In the coming weeks and months I will write more about my progress.

Edgar Smith was in solitary confinement awaiting his execution in the electric chair, sentenced to death for the first degree murder of a 15 year old girl by a jury that deliberated for less than three hours following his two week trial. In his jail cell he studied the law and read extensively. He became acquainted with William F. Buckley, the editor of National Review, and moderator of his own TV program: Firing Line.

By researching and writing his own appeals to the New Jersey Court of Appeals, Smith escaped the electric chair. By befriending Buckley, he was eventually set free when his conviction for first degree murder was set aside for retrial when the presiding judge ruled that evidence against him was gathered illegally. The State of New Jersey decided not to retry him, and he was released from prison after serving 14 years.

While in jail, Smith wrote several books, Brief Against Death, a refutation of the evidence used to convict him, Getting Out, and a novel, A Reasonable Doubt. The Kirkus Review of the novel praises it as “a balanced, painstaking overview of the law as it responds to both the greatnesses and weaknesses of the people it serves.” At the time he wrote the novel, Smith was still desperately trying to avoid execution. There can be very few reasons more compelling for a writer to create a novel, and lots of reasons to read it with a fair amount of attention to the possibility that there was more than just “a balanced overview of the law” at work in the body of the book.

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  1. Has your book been published and if so, what is the title? I was born and raised in Ramsey, New Jersey. My family was friends with the Zielinski’s. One of my brothers was best friends with Vicki’s brother Anthony. As a matter of fact, Anthony came to our house the night following the murder and sat with my brother talking for hours. My father knew Edgar Smith and his mother. It was a very traumatic time for my family and many others in Ramsey.
    I’m anxious to read your novel and see the alternative ending you came up with!

    1. Hello Marge – Thank you very much for your comment. The book is not published at this point, but I’ve been working very hard on it for the last year. In fact, it fair to say that I’ve been obsessed with it all that time. I lived with my family in Glen Rock and Ridgewood all through the 70’s, and did a lot of tramping around at Campgaw Reservation which as you know is not far from where all this happened.I have friends who were at Ramsey High when it happened. I’m intrigued by your family’s closeness to the Zielinskis, and your father’s closeness to Smith and his mother. I am very interested in any insights you or anyone in your family or your friends might have about the murder, it’s aftermath, or anything else you/they may have to say about it

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