Journalist, Author and Murder Victim’s Son Tom Lowenstein on the Complexities of the Death Penalty

A conversation with Stay Thirsty magazine

Chicago Review Press

Released earlier this year, Thomas Lowenstein’s book The Trials of Walter Ogrod highlights the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office’s reliance on a lying jailhouse “snitch” and the broader theme of innocent people being placed on Death Row.

Lowenstein talks about writing the book and more in the latest Summer Issue of Stay Thirsty magazine. A member of the digital quarterly’s staff traveled to Lousiana for the conversation, conducted at the offices of Lowenstein’s New Orleans Journalism Project. Very naturally, the topic of Allard K. Lowenstein, the author’s father, who was shot and killed in his New York office in 1980, came up:

“I have always opposed the death penalty, and it has nothing to do with sympathy for murderers. They deserve whatever we want to do to them, but we deserve better for ourselves. I learned this the hard way, wrestling for years with a desire to kill the man who killed my father. But all I was doing was ruining my own life, and killing him wasn’t going to make that any better.” …

“It’s one thing the prosecutor in the Ogrod case and I agree on—she told the jury that if ever a crime deserved the death penalty, the crime of killing a child, as Ogrod was charged with, deserved it. I agree. Ironically, she made this claim while sending an innocent man to Death Row based on the word of a snitch she herself said was a liar. So the true costs of the death penalty go on one side of the scale, and killing innocent people is one of them. Would I shoot the man who killed my father if it meant the innocent person next to him got killed, too? Would you?”

The man who killed Lowenstein’s father, Dennis Sweeney, was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity. He was released from prison in 2000.

Stay Thirsty founder Dusty Sang is a friend of Lowenstein’s. In 2010, the magazine’s book imprint Schiller & Wells Ltd. published the journalist’s debut novel The Ghost Detective.

Previously on Fishbowl:
A Magazine Dedicated to the Memory of the Publisher’s late Son