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How a Death-Row Inmate’s Embrace of Conservatism Led to His Release

In 1957, Edgar Smith, a 23-year-old former Marine who was both a husband and a new father, confessed to the bludgeoning murder of 15-year-old Vickie Zielinski in New Jersey. After deliberating for two hours, a jury convicted him. The judge sentenced him to death and he was sent to Trenton State Prison. What interests Weinman, who writes the Crime column for The New York Times Book Review, is not the murder but what transpired in its wake. Through a confluence of events, William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review and one of the architects of the 20th-century conservative movement, learned that Smith was a fan of his publication. Flattered, Buckley began to mail the inmate the latest issues. These communications initiated a relationship that would add up to nine years and 1,500 pages of correspondence — and, ultimately, Smith’s release from prison. Read more

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