cover image The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Violence and Revenge

The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Violence and Revenge

Alan Prendergast, Author Putnam Publishing Group $0 (350p) ISBN 978-0-399-13138-7

Prendergast, who for Rolling Stone covered the trials of teenagers Richard and Deborah Jahnke in Wyoming for the 1982 murder of their father, has produced an objective, affecting account of the case. A borderline psychotic, Jahnke senior subjected his wife and children to abuse both physical and psychological and, for a time, made sexual advances toward his daughter. Their residence became a house of terror, with the mother the most terrified of all, according to Prendergast. The children's feeble and intermittent attempts to acquaint outsiders with their situation were of no avail. Finally, with his sister's semiconnivance, Richard shot his father. The trials of the two, held separately, showed American justice at its worst: a prosecutor more interested in convictions than in finding the truth, and two inept and hidebound judges, one of whom would not admit evidence of child abuse. Deborah's sentence has now been commuted to one year of probation and Richard has been released on parole. A searing, convincing indictment. Literary Guild alternate. (June 12)