Feb. 5, 2018

Batten Student's New Book Shows Courage of Death Penalty Opponent

Batten MPP student Margaret Anderson put her advocacy for criminal justice into print, co-writing a well-received book about a noteworthy opponent of the death penalty in Virginia and South Carolina.

Anderson, a second-year student in the Master of Public Policy program, worked with one of her professors at Roanoke College to publish A Courageous Fool: Marie Deans and Her Struggle against the Death Penalty by Vanderbilt University Press.

Margaret Anderson spoke at the Nov. 1, 2017 “Batten Hour” at in the Great Room at Garrett Hall about her co-written book. (photo by Carl Briggs)

“I am proud of us for telling her story,” Anderson said of the book, co-written with Todd Peppers, the Henry H. & Trudye H. Fowler Professor in Public Affairs at Roanoke College and a Visiting Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University.

“But I am even more proud of Marie for doing this important work.”

Their book details Deans’ decades-long fight against capital punishment following the 1972 murder of her mother-in-law, Penny Deans. Marie Deans, a Charlottesville resident who died in 2011, won reduced sentences for more than 200 death-row inmates in Virginia and South Carolina. One of those men was Earl Washington, wrongly convicted, who was saved in 2000 from execution in Virginia by DNA evidence. Joe Giarratano received a conditional pardon and was released on parole last year.

Many used to refer to Deans as the “Angel of Death Row.” But Deans said she preferred to be known as a “courageous fool,” someone who was too foolish and stubborn to abandon her struggle to defeat capital punishment. 

“Marie’s story and the stories of the men she worked with on Virginia’s death row deserve to be told,” Anderson said, calling A Courageous Fool “a necessary and important work.”

In an interview with Virginia Public Radio, Anderson said Deans “wore many hats over the course her career, and one of those main hats was a spiritual advisor and almost a mother to these men.”

She did not excuse their crimes, Anderson said. “She wasn’t saying the murders they committed were okay by any means. But she was making them realize that they were human. That their actions had repercussions to them.”

Anderson has attended several book signings since the release last August of A Courageous Fool, and she spoke at an anti-death penalty vigil outside of the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. 

Among the positive reviews is this one by Colman McCarthy, “Marie Deans, ‘Courageous Fool’ of Death Row.” McCarthy is a former longtime columnist for The Washington Post who directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington.

Anderson discussed her work in researching and co-writing A Courageous Fool at the Nov. 1, 2017 “Batten Hour” presentation.

Anderson’s interest in research, scholarship and writing goes back to her high school days in Madison County, just north of Charlottesville. She enrolled at Roanoke College, in Salem, Va., after learning of opportunities there for Research Fellows and Summer Scholars.

Anderson took Peppers’ courses at Roanoke College and worked as his Research Assistant. “I am so grateful to Roanoke College and Dr. Peppers for providing me with such great opportunities to work on meaningful research while I was an undergraduate,” Anderson said.

Peppers also encouraged Anderson to pursue a semester-long internship in Washington, D.C. Anderson interned for U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) during the spring semester of her sophomore year at Roanoke College. 

In an interview with the Innocence Project, Peppers spoke highly of Anderson’s contribution to bring A Courageous Fool to publication.

“Maggie was an outstanding student and she helped me with much of the project, including organizing and reviewing Marie’s voluminous personal papers and writings. I could not have written this book without Maggie,” he said.

Anderson also worked with Dr. Julie Lyon at Roanoke College on a paper, “Undergraduate Research on UR Leads to College-Wide Change,” which was published in 2012 by CUR Quarterly, from the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Anderson finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 2013 and then began working for Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s successful gubernatorial campaign. She rose to become a Deputy Field Organizer, managing the Charlottesville office’s interns and organizing volunteers. She then went back to work at Sen. Warner’s D.C. office, first as a staff assistant and then as a legislative correspondent, working on agriculture, environment, budget, and appropriations related issues.

Meanwhile, she and Peppers continued to work on their book. As she told a Roanoke College staff writer, “It was a lot of work outside of my job, but it was definitely worth it.”

She was at work in Sen. Warner’s office in fall 2014 when she learned that Vanderbilt University Press would publish A Courageous Fool.

Since coming to Batten in 2016, Anderson has been a Social Entrepreneurship Fellow and a Batten Ambassador, and she held a summer internship at McGuireWoods Consulting in Richmond.

Last fall she worked with nine other students in the Applied Policy Clinics: Virginia Transition Team Clinic that assisted with the final Virginia gubernatorial debate and the transition for Gov.-elect Dr. Ralph Northam. Batten professors Andy Pennock and Ray Scheppach led the course. Anderson researched and wrote about access to dental care for the transition team.

Margaret Anderson, center, with other Batten students and professor Andy Pennock from the fall course “Applied Policy Clinics: Virginia Transition Team Clinic.” (Batten School photo)

Last fall Anderson served as a graduate teaching assistant for Scheppach’s “Leadership in the Public Area” course, and as head graduate teaching assistant for Professor Gerald Warburg’s course “The Public Policy Challenges of the 21st Century.” She is also working on an applied policy project on poverty relief in Richmond.

“I plan to move to Richmond after I graduate to hopefully work for the (Commonwealth) in some capacity,” Anderson said.

“I am really excited about possibly working at the state level; a lot of important policy-making happens there. Plus, I was born, raised, and educated in Virginia and worked for Senator Warner for three years. I really want to continue to work with and for Virginians.”

She hopes that A Courageous Fool will serve as a lasting reminder of the relentless work of Marie Deans.

“I am honored to be part of this process,” Anderson said. “Todd Peppers and I were simply the vehicle that got her story out for the public to read.”

Margaret Anderson, center, with other Batten students and professor Andy Pennock. (Batten School photo)

Margaret Anderson (photo by Jack Looney)