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Stripping Away the Sound Bites
Jerry Bledsoe's Death Sentence
Conjures More than Velma Barfield

  Crescent Blues Book Views

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People who read true crime do so for several reasons. Many want to get the story behind the headlines. But many of us, myself included, read true crime because it satisfies a certain voyeurism in us. I love to know all the details of people's lives. What are they really like before the lawyers clean them up, program them, rehearse them to within an inch of their lives, and otherwise make them presentable for press and public?

Click book to buy from AmazonIn Death Sentence, Jerry Bledsoe, a stand-out in the true crime genre, strips away all the sound bites conjured up to describe Velma Barfield to reveal the woman behind the headlines. There were lots of headlines, most of them stemming from the rarity of a female serial killer.

But the reader of Death Sentence soon realizes this is not just a story of Velma Barfield, her crimes, trial and execution. It is a story of a family torn apart by a woman who was wife, mother, professional care giver and successful killer. And it is the story of a justice system that wanted Old Testament-style retribution more than it wanted justice.

Bledsoe spends time getting to know the people who witnessed the events leading up to Barfield's crimes and those who picked up the pieces after the fact. He lets you see Velma Barfield through the eyes of those who knew her, loved her, hated her and saw her as the means to political ends.

Bledsoe could have written this book like so many "victim" stories. The cliché of the "poor, uneducated addict, forced to kill" always sells. But Bledsoe offers the reader far more than this trite formula. He examines not only the life and times of Velma Barfield, but also the criminal justice system and the politics of high profile criminal cases.

You'll find yourself so caught up in this book that you almost forget you're reading about real people. Joe Freedman Britt, the strict law and order county prosecutor, did not come from central casting. Neither did the Barfield family members forced to choose between family loyalty and what they believed to be right and wrong. But their real life dramas are what make this book such a page turner.

As Bledsoe points out, men account for 98 percent of the people sentenced to death. What made Barfield's case the exception? What was so heinous about her crimes that the State of North Carolina saw fit to have her die rather than live out her life behind bars? The answers found in Death Sentence will stay with you, haunting you as the reality haunts those people who played starring roles in the life and death of Velma Barfield.

Susan Yonts-Shepard

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