Patterson Mystery: 'Conviction'

Former lawyer Richard North Patterson is not one to shy away from controversy. His best-selling novels have tackled hot-button topics like gun control and abortion. And he's done it again.

His latest novel, "Conviction," tackles the extremely complicated legal issues surrounding the death penalty.

"There's nothing much more exciting than a lawyer's last-minute race to save a client from execution," Patterson tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.

The book follows a team of attorneys as they work feverishly to file appeals to save a man on death row from execution.

"I show he may well be innocent, but not enough to save him," Patterson says pointing out with his book he challenges readers to ask the questions, "Is the death penalty right and do we kill the innocent, and if so, why?"

Although Patterson is against the death penalty, "Conviction" presents both sides of the argument.

For his convicted character, he made interesting choices: "I did a couple of things. This is basically a horrible crime," Patterson says. "If you believe he did it, he's guilty of the sexual murder of a 9-year-old girl, which is something I think we all recoil from. But the other thing is that I showed what it's like to be mentally retarded in the process: You confess falsely; you can't help your lawyers; you don't know what's happening. And chances are of a person like that, in particular the way the system works, may be wrongly executed."

Besides presenting the aspects of mental retardation and abuse as mitigating factors in meting out the death penalty, he makes it clear that DNA does not work like a "magic bullet."

He explains, "Less than 10 percent of death row cases were susceptible to DNA evidence. So the other 90 percent aren't. I think DNA is great if you have it, but people have illusions of the DNA as the magic bullet, and that it's just not so. So in a way it's made us more secure in the death penalty. I think there were 170 exonerations in the last couple of decades. I think about all of the cases that fell through the cracks, who were literally buried in mistakes, which is what are raised in "Conviction.'"

The book also covers the work in the 11th hour by lawyers to save their clients.

He says, "I show the death chamber, I show what the lawyers go through, and I show the last hours of an accused facing potential death. Imagine, you know the hour, and the minute, and second of your death, and you're a lawyer and you are attempting to do everything you can to keep that from happening."

Read an excerpt from Chapter One.