Arbitrary Death: A Prosecutor’s Perspective on the Death Penalty


Rick Unklesbay began his career as a prosecutor in 1981 in the Pima County Attorney’s Office in Tucson, Arizona. He has supervised the Violent Crimes Unit, has been Chief of the Criminal Division, and now runs the office’s unit looking at potential wrongful convictions. He has tried every type of criminal case, including many high-profile murders. In 2010 he partially retired but kept trying cases, including the bombing death of Gary Triano that had nationwide coverage. This is his first book.
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Over a career spanning nearly four decades, Rick Unklesbay has tried over one hundred murder cases before juries that ended with sixteen men and women receiving the death sentence. Arbitrary Death depicts some of the most horrific murders in Tucson, Arizona, the author’s prosecution of those cases, and how the death penalty was applied. It provides the framework to answer the questions: Why is America the only Western country to still use the death penalty? Can a human-run system treat those cases fairly and avoid unconstitutional arbitrariness?

It is an insider’s view from someone who has spent decades prosecuting murder cases and who now argues that the death penalty doesn’t work and our system is fundamentally flawed.

With a rational, balanced approach, Unklesbay depicts cases that represent how different parts of the criminal justice system are responsible for the arbitrary nature of the death penalty and work against the fair application of the law. The prosecution, trial courts, juries, and appellate courts all play a part in what ultimately is a roll of the dice as to whether a defendant lives or dies.

Arbitrary Death is for anyone who wonders why and when its government seeks to legally take the life of one of its citizens. It will have you questioning whether you can support a system that applies death as an arbitrary punishment — and often decades after the sentence was given.


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