September 19, 2015

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham

Title:  The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
Author:  John Grisham
Pages:  360
Genre:  Non-Fiction
Publisher:  Doubleday, 2006

Synopsis:  John Grisham's first work of nonfiction, an exploration of small town justice gone terribly awry, is his most extraordinary legal thriller yet. — In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A's, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits--drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.

In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

With no physical evidence, the prosecution's case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.

If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.

Review:  I was naive.  I thought our justice system was the best one in the world, in the history of the world.  I now realize that it is only as good as the people involved in it.  Everyone, from the judge to the prosecutor, to the 'expert witnesses' were corrupt and wrong and ruined four lives.

I was shocked, disturbed and infuriated, just as the synopsis promised.  I was also saddened.  And uplifted and hopeful because somebody out there eventually brought the facts to light and saved the life of Ron Williamson and freed Dennis Fritz.  It's unfortunate, but the other two men who were convicted by the same dishonest system for a different crime, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, are in prison for life.

Ron's life was saved too late.  He was so mentally unbalanced and the 14 years he spent in correctional facilities just exacerbated his problems.  What a sad, sad group of people who cared nothing for justice and sent innocent people to jail and one to death row.  The only bright spot, if you can call it that, is 20+ years later, the actual killer of Debra Carter is behind bars for life.

I couldn't put this book down.  I easily finished it in less than 24 hours.  It is horrifying and sad and eye-opening....and true.

Rating:  10 / 10

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