Imagine meeting someone with the power to tell you everything that will happen to you in the future. He can see the good and bad, the ups and downs for the rest of your life. He has the power to tell all – including the exact time of your death.

Would you want to know?

In the new book, A Saint on Death Row (c.2009, Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, $18.95 / $22.00 Canada, 144 pages), author Thomas Cahill writes about a man condemned to die, how he got to where he was, and the lives he touched.

Popular authors travel a lot. In late 2003, Thomas Cahill (author of How the Irish Saved Civilization) was looking forward to the end of his book tour and a chance to relax. But unable to say “no” to a new acquaintance, he reluctantly agreed to take a day out of his schedule for a side-trip. The acquaintance, a semi-retired judge from Chicago, had been introduced to a prison inmate in Texas by a man who belonged to a religious community in Rome. The judge, Sheila Murphy, wanted Cahill to meet the inmate, Dominique Green.

At the beginning of his friendship with Green, Cahill wrote “Dominique is where he is for two reasons only: because he is poor and because he is Black.” Green was raised in a household thick with drugs and alcohol, by an abusive mother and an apathetic father. He dropped out of school and started a “business” selling drugs so he could take care of two younger brothers.

In October 1992, after being chased in a stolen car and on foot, Green was arrested. A handgun was in the car (along with two other boys), and tests established that it had been used in the murder of a truck driver in Houston. Cahill says, “the record becomes exceedingly muddled and incomplete” at this point. But of the four boys involved, only Dominique Green was tried and convicted, though many doubt that he committed the crime. Unable to afford private counsel, he alone was sentenced to death.

For not quite a year, Cahill spoke with, prayed with, and got to know Green while the young man was in prison. He watched as supporters-including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that retired Chicago judge, and murdered man’s family-fought for Green’s life.

And Cahill waited…

If it wasn’t for author Thomas Cahill’s thoughtful musings and careful research, it might be easy to dismiss this book as very biased. There is no doubt that Cahill has extremely strong opinions on the subject of capital punishment. Obviously, as many people agree as disagree with him. But no matter on which side of the fence you sit, it’s hard not to be stunned by the chill of four words that Cahill uses sparingly: he says of Green and the system, they are “going to kill him.”

A Saint on Death Row may not change your mind about capital punishment, but it will start discussion, both politically and around the dinner table. Read it, though, because no matter your stance, it’s a pretty powerful book.