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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
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"The Innocent Man" redirects here. For a South Korean television series, see The Innocent Man (TV series). The Innocent Man | | Author(s) | John Grisham | Country | United States | Publisher | Doubleday | Publication date | October 10, 2006 | Pages | 368 | ISBN | 978-0-385-51723-2 | OCLC Number | 70251230 |
The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (2006) is a nonfiction book written by John Grisham, and his first outside the legal fiction genre. The book tells the story of Ronald 'Ron' Keith Williamson of Ada, Oklahoma, a former minor league baseball player who was wrongly convicted in 1988 for the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada and was sentenced to death. After serving 11 years on death row, he was exonerated by DNA evidence and other material introduced by the Innocence Project and was released in 1999. Contents * 1 Synopsis * 2 Book edition * 3 References * 4 External links |
Synopsis
Ron Williamson has returned to his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma after multiple failed attempts to play for various minor league baseball teams, including the Fort Lauderdale Yankees and two farm teams owned by the Oakland A's. An elbow injury inhibited his chances to progress. His big dreams were not enough to overcome the odds (less than 10 percent) of making it to a big league game. His failures lead to, or aggravate, his depression and problem drinking.[1]
Early in the morning of December 8, 1982, the body of Debra Sue Carter, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress, was found in the bedroom of her garage apartment in Ada. She had been beaten, raped and suffocated. After five years of false starts and shoddy police work by the Ada police department, Williamson—along with his "drinking buddy", Dennis Fritz—were charged, tried and convicted of the rape and murder charges in 1988. Williamson was sentenced to death. Fritz was given a life sentence. Fritz's wife had been murdered seven years earlier and he was raising their only daughter when he was arrested.
Grisham's book describes the aggressive and misguided mission of the Ada police department and Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson to solve the mystery of Carter's murder. The police and prosecutor used forced "dream" confessions, unreliable witnesses, and flimsy evidence to convict Williamson and Fritz. Since a death penalty conviction automatically sets in motion a series of appeals, the Innocence Project aided Williamson's attorney, Mark Barrett, in exposing several glaring holes in the prosecution's case and the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses. Frank H. Seay, a U.S. District Court judge, ordered a retrial.
After suffering through a conviction and eleven years on death row, Williamson and Fritz were exonerated by DNA evidence and released on April 15, 1999. Williamson was the 78th inmate released from death row since 1973.[2][3][4]
Williamson suffered deep and irreversible psychological damage during his incarceration and eventual stay on death row. For example, on September 22, 1994, he was five days away from being executed when his sentence was stayed by the court, following the filing of a habeas corpus petition.[5][6][7] He was intermittently treated for manic depression, personality disorders, alcoholism and mild schizophrenia. It was later proven that he was indeed mentally ill and therefore was unfit to have been tried or sentenced to death in the first place. The State of Oklahoma, the city of Ada, and Pontotoc County officials never admitted any errors and threatened to re-arrest him.
Another criminal from Ada, Glen Gore, was eventually convicted of the original crime on June 24, 2003. He was sentenced to death[6] but his sentence was overturned in August 2005.[8] He was convicted at a second trial on June 21, 2006 and sentenced by Judge Landrith to life in prison without parole. This was required by law due to a jury deadlock on sentencing.[9][10]
Williamson and Fritz sued and won a settlement for wrongful conviction of $500,000 in 2003 from the City of Ada, and an out-of-court settlement with the State of Oklahoma for an undisclosed amount. By 2004, Williamson was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and died on December 4, 2004 in a Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, nursing home. Fritz returned to Kansas City, where he lives with his daughter, Elizabeth as of 2006. In 2006, Fritz published his own account of being wrongly convicted in his book titled Journey toward Justice.[11]
The book includes accounts (as subplots) of the false conviction, trial and sentencing of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot in the abduction, rape, and purported murder of Denice Haraway, as well as the false conviction of Greg Wilhoit in the rape and murder of his estranged wife, Kathy. At one time, all the men were incarcerated in the same death row. About two decades before Grisham's book, Ward and Fontenot's wrongful convictions were detailed in a book published in 1987 called The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer.[12]
Book edition * The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham, Doubleday Books, 2006, ISBN 0-385-51723-8, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 2006048468.
References
1. ^ Grisham, John. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice and Injustice in a Small Town. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 2. ^ "Innocence: List of Those Freed from Death Row". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved January 26, 2009. 3. ^ "Former Death Row Inmate Acquitted in One Court, Now Convicted in Another". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved April 12, 2010. 4. ^ "Revision to the List of Exonerated Individuals". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved November 29, 2010. 5. ^ "The Innocent Man". Entertainment Weekly. October 11, 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2009. 6. ^ a b Dwyer, Jim (December 9, 2004). "Ronald Williamson, Freed From Death Row, Dies at 51". The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2009. 7. ^ "Frontline: Burden of Innocence: Profiles: Ron Williamson". Retrieved January 26, 2010. 8. ^ 2nd trial begins for man given death sentence, NewsOK.com. Retrieved on January 26, 2009. 9. ^ Offender Lookup Detail: Glen D. Gore. Retrieved on January 26, 2009. 10. ^ The Other Trial, Bubbaworld. Retrieved on January 26, 2009 11. ^ Sevenlockspublishing.com ISBN 1-931643-95-4. 12. ^ amazon.com, ISBN 0-670-81079-7
External links * Random House * The Innocence Project: Background on Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz: * Grishams Folly: District Attorney Bill Peterson's website disputes Grisham's claims : * The Innocent Man Study (PDF) from the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (Broken Link) * Excerpt from 2003 Frontline story Burden of Innocence featuring Williamson's case * Un-aired material from 2003 Frontline story Burden of Innocence featuring Fritz's case * Donald E. Wilkes Jr "Kafka (And Grisham) in Oklahoma." Published in Flagpole Magazine, p. 9 (February 7, 2007). [hide] * v * t * eWorks of John Grisham | | | Novels | * A Time to Kill (1989) * The Firm (1991) * The Pelican Brief (1992) * The Client (1993) * The Chamber (1994) * The Rainmaker (1995) * The Runaway Jury (1996) * The Partner (1997) * The Street Lawyer (1998) * The Testament (1999) * The Brethren (2000) * A Painted House (2001) * Skipping Christmas (2001) * The Summons (2002) * The King of Torts (2003) * Bleachers (2003) * The Last Juror (2004) * The Broker (2005) * Playing for Pizza (2007) * The Appeal (2008) * The Associate (2009) * The Confession (2010) * The Litigators (2011) * Calico Joe (2012) * The Racketeer (2012) | | | Short story collections | * Ford County (2009) | | | Non-fiction | * The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (2006) | | | Children's books | * Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (2010) * Theodore Boone: The Abduction (2011) * Theodore Boone: The Accused (2012) | | | Screenplays | * The Gingerbread Man (1998) * Mickey (2004) | | | Film adaptations | * The Firm (1993) * The Pelican Brief (1993) * The Client (1994) * A Time to Kill (1996) * The Chamber (1996) * The Rainmaker (1997) * The Gingerbread Man (1998) * A Painted House (2001) * Runaway Jury (2003) * Christmas with the Kranks (2004) * The Last Juror (2013) | | | Television adaptations | * The Client (1995) * The Street Lawyer (2003) * The Firm (2012) | | | Recurring protagonists | * Theodore Boone * Mitch McDeere | |
Categories:
* Non-fiction crime books * Books by John Grisham * 2006 books * Ada, Oklahoma
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1013 ReviewsCentury, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 360 pagesWhen John Grisham read the obituary of Ronald Williamson in early 2004, he realized he had come across a story even more riveting than those he had turned into 18 global bestsellers with worldwide sales of 200 million copies. It was a story of failed dreams, madness, rape and murder, a botched trial, a wrongful death sentence and a twelve-year fight to win justice. Ronald Williamson was a local hero in his home town of Ada, Oklahoma. A fabulously talented baseball player, he excelled at college and was set to become a national sports star when injury wrecked his career. Mental illness and alcoholism followed his return to Ada, a burned-out shell of a man. While in prison serving a short sentence for a petty felony, a fellow prisoner alleged that he had heard Williamson confess to the unsolved rape and murder of a local bar girl.Denied drugs for his psychiatric problems, given a blind attorney who had never defended a criminal case, Williamson stood no chance and was sentenced to death. One of the greatest mistrials in American judicial history became one of the greatest fights for justice of any convicted man. Five days before his execution, Williamson was given a stay and shortly after completely pardoned.John Grisham has been consumed by Williamson's story, researching every detail of the nerve jangling drama of the trial and deathwatch. A court room drama and a race against time, John Grisham's first work of non-fiction is as compelling as any of his novels and will be compared to Truman Capote's IN Cold Blood. |

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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham (Goodreads Author)
3.72 of 5 stars 3.72 · rating details · 27,637 ratings · 2,652 reviews
In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the big leagues, Ron stumbled, his dream broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron's home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death--in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man's already broken life...and let a true killer go free.

Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham's first work of non-fiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence--a book that no American can afford to miss.(less)

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the big leagues, Ron stumbled, his dream broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron's home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death--in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man's already broken life...and let a true killer go free.

Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham's first work of non-fiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence--a book that no American can afford to miss.(less)

Grisham Takes On the Mystery of Reality
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By JANET MASLIN
Published: October 9, 2006
John Grisham’s new book is about a momentous occurrence in the history of small, sleepy, apparently justice-averse Ada, Okla. Here’s what the big event was: Mr. Grisham came to town.

THE INNOCENT MAN
Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
By John Grisham.
360 pp. Doubleday. $28.95
Readers’ Opinions
Forum: Book News and Reviews

Lynne Brubaker
John Grisham
He arrived to do research for his first nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man.” He had been drawn to Ada by the Dec. 9, 2004, obituary of Ronald Keith Williamson. Mr. Williamson had been tried for murder, wrongly convicted and later exonerated. Dennis Fritz, a friend of Mr. Williamson’s, had also been tried, convicted and exonerated for the same killing of a 21-year-old woman.
By amazing coincidence, the identical fishy and (as a judge would eventually rule) indefensible legal tactics, including reliance on dreams in place of concrete evidence and giving credence to the testimony of jailhouse snitches, had also figured in a separate murder investigation. This one involved another young female victim and two more men, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot. Both were convicted and sentenced to life in prison, where they remain.
Ada is known for growing pecans and then cracking and crushing even the toughest nuts into small pieces. That’s a fine metaphor for the way its legal system works, but it is not Mr. Grisham’s. Its source is “The Dreams of Ada,” a gripping 1987 nonfiction book about the Ward-Fontenot case by Robert Mayer. Mr. Grisham draws heavily on that book and acknowledges an obvious debt. A new edition of “The Dreams of Ada” will be published this month with a hefty, helpful Grisham blurb on its front cover.
Here is the difference between these two authors: Mr. Mayer presents a quietly persuasive portrait of the prosecutorial atmosphere that he calls (in a new coda about the Williamson-Fritz case) “Kafka in Oklahoma.” Mr. Grisham has a more Olympian ability to hurl thunderbolts. His book inflicts a plague of vipers upon the head of Bill Peterson, the Ada district attorney who led both these investigations and is still in office. Let’s just say it will be no fun to be Mr. Peterson starting tomorrow, when “The Innocent Man” goes on sale.
But Mr. Grisham’s clout in Ada has more to do with his celebrity than with his nonfiction writing style. Compared with other works in its genre, “The Innocent Man” is less spectacular than sturdy. It is a reminder not only of how propulsively Mr. Grisham’s fiction is constructed but of how difficult it is to make messy reality behave in clear, streamlined fashion.
So “The Innocent Man” begins by describing the disappearance of Mr. Williamson’s and Mr. Fritz’s supposed victim from the parking lot of the nightclub where she worked. (She was later found dead at her home.) By the time he has written 13 pages, Mr. Grisham has introduced 22 witnesses, relatives, law officers and forensic experts, with many more to come.
If it takes a while for Ron Williamson to appear, the reason is clear in Mr. Grisham’s mind: Mr. Williamson had no direct connection to the crime. The book describes the tortured process by which Mr. Williamson, with a reputation for being drunk, moody and troublesome, eventually caught the interest of the police.
Although this process amounts to a litany of legal outrages, its effect is primarily very sad. Mr. Williamson was an aspiring baseball star whose career was ruined by the time he was 24. “Man, you’re gonna die in the minors,” he was once nastily told by his hero, Reggie Jackson. That was Mr. Williamson’s closest brush with baseball stardom.
The book provides much evidence of Mr. Williamson’s mental deterioration. His behavior becomes wildly erratic. His substance abuse heightens. His habits turn increasingly peculiar. (At one point he refuses to discuss anything unrelated to presidents of the United States.) Meanwhile Mr. Grisham brings his extensive legal expertise to the job of being dumbfounded by what he describes as the law’s systematic flouting of Mr. Williamson’s rights and by the sadistic manipulation of his paranoia.
In the face of such flagrant abuse of a suspect, Mr. Grisham has a hard time keeping sarcasm at bay. Of the terrible circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Williamson’s mother, and that he was kept shackled even at her funeral, the author writes: “Such precautions were obviously needed for a felon who forged a $300 check.” (At that point the murder charge had not been brought against him.)
Far worse than her son’s humiliation is that Mr. Williamson’s mother died thinking that she had proved to the police that her son was home watching videos with her on the night of Debbie Carter’s murder. Though her lawyer said he watched her make this statement to a police detective, a video camera apparently failed to record what she said. No evidence of it surfaced in the legal proceedings that followed.
“The Innocent Man” is plural, despite its title. It is about “four men, four average white guys from good families, all chewed up and abused by the system and locked away for a combined total of 33 years.” This is a lot for a nonfiction narrative to juggle, and this book sometimes strains under the burden of so much grim, frustrating data. Mr. Grisham’s report on the construction of an underground, completely daylight-deprived prison provides the most egregious chamber of horrors in a book that is figuratively full of them.
Every now and then “The Innocent Man” provides a tangible reminder of Mr. Grisham’s novels. Take Barney Ward, Mr. Williamson’s court-appointed lawyer, who sounds as if he walked right out of Grisham fiction. This is Mr. Ward’s first death penalty case. He is a wildly colorful character. He is also blind; and just as the case pivots on forensic evidence that requires visual examination, his assistant leaves him in the lurch. Mr. Ward’s relationship with Mr. Williamson is so edgy that Mr. Ward’s son is poised to tackle the client physically should trouble arise.
If this were fiction, Mr. Ward would triumph. And he’d do it in style. But he neglected to use crucial evidence that could have helped his client. Mr. Williamson was eventually assigned a different lawyer. His vindication was bittersweet at best. The process that finally brought him justice could not bring him peace.

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.

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
John Grisham, Author, Dennis Boutsikaris, Read by , read by Dennis Boutsikaris. Random House Audio $29.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-7393-2419-6

Grisham's first work of nonfiction focuses on the tragedy of Ron Williamson, a baseball hero from a small town in Oklahoma who winds up a dissolute, mentally unstable Major League washout railroaded onto death row for a hometown rape and murder he did not commit. Judging by this author-approved abridgment, Grisham has chosen to present Williamson's painful story (and that of his equally innocent "co-conspirator," Dennis Fritz) as straightforward journalism, eschewing the more familiar "nonfiction novel" approach with its reconstructed dialogues and other adjustments for dramatic purpose. This has resulted in a book that, while it includes such intriguing elements as murder, rape, detection and judicial injustice, consists primarily of objective reportage, albeit shaded by the now-proven fact of Williamson's innocence. The absence of dialogue or character point of view could make for a rather bland audio. Boutsikaris avoids that by reverting to what might be called old-fashioned round-the-campfire storytelling, treating the lengthy exposition to vocal interpretations, subtle and substantial. He narrates the events leading up to the 1982 rape and murder of a young cocktail waitress with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, moving on to astonishment at the prosecution's use of deceit and false testimony to convict Williamson and Fritz and, eventually, elation at the exoneration of the two innocent men. Throughout, he maintains an appealing conversational tone, an effect made all the more remarkable by the book's nearly total absence of conversation. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 01/29/2007

Vol. 17 No.7 (July, 2007) pp.602-608 THE INNOCENT MAN: MURDER AND INJUSTICE IN A SMALL TOWN, by John Grisham. New York: Doubleday, 2006. 368pp. Hardcover. $28.95. ISBN: 9780385517232. Reviewed by Jack E. Call, Department of Criminal Justice, Radford University. Email: jcall [at] RADFORD.EDU. John Grisham’s legal novels are well-known to avid readers of that literary genre. THE INNOCENT MAN is Grisham’s first (and so far only) venture into non-fiction. It tells the story of Ron Williamson, an Oklahoma boy with great promise as a professional baseball player. However, the demons of drink, drugs, and mental illness prevented Williamson from fulfilling that potential. Eventually, Williamson’s demons also destroyed his marriage, prevented him from holding a decent job, and resulted in his development of a local reputation as an erratic, unpredictable man who could be likable at times but was generally not to be trusted. When a young female acquaintance, Debbie Carter, was found raped and murdered in her garage apartment in his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma, in 1982, it was not surprising that the police eventually considered him a person of interest. For many readers, THE INNOCENT MAN will interest them as a story about a man whose promise as a person is unrealized and who becomes a victim of the criminal justice system. Their interest will lie in Ron Williamson, the person. For others, the interest lies in the story the case tells about the criminal justice system. As such, it can be added to a growing list of stories told about justice gone awry. THE INNOCENT MAN paints a picture of a seriously flawed criminal justice system. While virtually no component of the system portrayed in the book emerges unscathed, it is the police who look particularly bad, with the prosecution running a close second. The police did a reasonably good job of investigating the murder scene (although at trial, Williamson’s defense attorney pointed out in his cross-examination of one of the primary investigators that they had failed to look for fingerprints in several logical places). Numerous people who knew Debbie Carter or had been at the night club where she was last seen alive in public were interviewed. None of them mentioned anything about Ron Williamson. Glen Gore should have been an obvious suspect. He had been seen with Debbie hours before her death, talking with her at her car in the parking lot of the night club she had attended that evening. At least one witness said that Debbie was seen pushing Gore away, although others reported seeing nothing unusual occur between the two. At least two people indicated that Debbie had told them that [*603] she was afraid of Gore. (Unfortunately, Grisham is a bit unclear as to how much of this information was known to the police. He makes it clear that one person called the police and reported to them that Debbie had a running dispute with Gore about a windshield wiper that she thought Gore had stolen from her car and that she was afraid of Gore. It is unclear how much of the other evidence connecting Gore to Debbie on the night of her murder was uncovered by the police. However, if the police were unaware of much of this evidence, they obviously could have found it, since Grisham was able to find it). The police apparently focused on Williamson as a suspect when, three months after the murder, Robert Deatherage told the police that he had just finished a short stint in the local jail, where he had shared a cell with Williamson. He indicated that Williamson had seemed uneasy every time the subject of the Carter murder had come up in conversation. (Grisham does not indicate why the police interviewed Deatherage). The interest of the police in Williamson as a suspect was increased further because he kept weird hours, had engaged in much erratic behavior, lived a short distance from Debbie Carter’s apartment, and had recently been acquitted on two rape charges. When Williamson reported “dream confessions” about Debbie’s murder (“I dreamed that I . . .”) on two separate occasions to a jailer and to two police interrogators, he became their primary suspect. Although there was little to no evidence suggesting more than one perpetrator, the investigating officers were convinced that there were two murderers. They decided a friend of Williamson, Dennis Fritz, must have been involved. The evidence against him was not strong, but they convinced him to take a polygraph examination. The examiner found his answers evasive. Given the evidence against Fritz, as described by Grisham, it is difficult to see how the police thought they even had probable cause to arrest Fritz, much less proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict. Nevertheless, he was arrested, tried (before Williamson), and convicted. The case against Fritz consisted of guilt by association with Williamson (although the case against Williamson was not presented to the Fritz jury); testimony from three jailhouse snitches; forensic evidence that Fritz was a non-secretor (a person whose blood type cannot be determined from bodily fluids, which is true for about 20% of the population); and forensic evidence that hair samples found at the murder scene were consistent with Fritz’ hair. As weak as this evidence was, it was further weakened by the fact that the forensic expert who testified that Fritz was a non-secretor was far from certain that the killer (or killers) were non-secretors. In addition, the first lab analyst to examine the hair samples found at the murder scene concluded that those samples were only microscopically consistent with Debbie Carter’s hair and not with any samples taken from other persons (a fact that was never shared with the defense). This result required analysis from another technician, who ultimately concluded that some of the samples were consistent with Fritz’ hair. It took this expert over two years to do his analysis, and he did so with the knowledge that when he was analyzing Fritz’ hair, Fritz was a suspect in the case. (Other hair samples that he analyzed were not marked as having come from a suspect). [*604] The prosecution’s case may have been strengthened when it was able to prove during cross-examination of Dennis Fritz that he had lied to the school system when he indicated on his job application that he had no criminal convictions. In fact, he had once been convicted of growing marijuana. (When the police had discovered this fact during its investigation, they called the junior high school where Fritz was working and told them that he was under investigation for murder and had lied about his marijuana-growing conviction. The school system fired him immediately). The prosecution also established that Fritz had lied about the marijuana-growing conviction on an application for a gun permit. Although this testimony may have strengthened the prosecution’s case a little by showing that Fritz had lied on at least two occasions, the case in chief from the prosecution was so weak to start with that it is difficult to imagine how the case survived a motion for a directed verdict from the defense, much less provided a sufficient basis for a jury’s conclusion that Fritz was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury sentenced him to life in prison. The prosecution was now ready to try Williamson. Much of its case consisted of the same evidence presented against Dennis Fritz. However, the prosecution had a couple of advantages that it lacked at the Fritz trial. First, it had the “dream confessions” that Williamson had related to the police and a jailer. Second, Williamson was clearly mentally ill and prone to exhibiting behavior in the courtroom that did not make a good impression on the jury. For example, when a jailhouse snitch testified against Williamson, he interrupted her more than once, calling her a liar and threatening her. The prosecution may also have benefited from the fact that when Glen Gore was called to testify, he refused to answer questions. His reasons for doing so were unclear (he was in prison on charges unrelated to the Carter murder, and he may have been concerned about the impression he would have created with his fellow inmates if he had “snitched” on Williamson). Since he had testified at the Williamson preliminary hearing, however, and had been subjected to cross-examination there, the trial judge allowed that testimony to be read to the jury. Such testimony might not be as forceful as in-court testimony, but this was no doubt more than counteracted by the fact that at the preliminary hearing, Williamson’s defense attorney had not cross-examined Williamson about his criminal record of violent offenses and his own whereabouts on the night of the murder. Consequently, the jury heard none of this information. Although the prosecution’s case was no doubt a little stronger against Williamson than it had been against Fritz, it was still quite weak. Yet it yielded the same result – a unanimous jury vote for conviction after deliberations of only six hours (including a lunch break). And this time the jury recommended a sentence of death. To this point in the case, the criminal justice system had done little to inspire confidence. The police failed to investigate the possibility that the last [*605] person seen with Debbie Carter, a person with a propensity for violence and known to be a person she feared, might have killed her. The police had made misrepresentations to suspects and pressured them and other witnesses, although that pressure may not have risen to the level of coercion. One witness, who lived not far from Dennis Fritz, had heard some noise outside his home very late one night in December (the month of Debbie’s murder). When he looked outside, he saw two men washing themselves off with his garden hose. The police were convinced that this was Fritz and Williamson washing Debbie’s blood off after killing her. However, the witness could not remember what night this was, nor could he say for certain who the two men were, even after being shown pictures of Fritz and Williamson. Not long before Williamson’s trial, Grisham indicates that one of the primary police investigators visited the witness, trying to suggest details that would strengthen the witness’ testimony. When the witness declined to make his answers more helpful to the prosecution, Grisham says that the police officer “brushed his coat away from his hip so [the witness] could see his service revolver . . . and said that [the witness] might get lead poisoning if his memory didn’t improve” (p.193). The prosecution did not fare much better. It proceeded with two murder prosecutions on very limited evidence. It made extensive use of testimony from jailhouse snitches whose credibility was, at the very least, questionable. It failed to question why the police did not investigate Glen Gore’s possible involvement in Debbie Carter’s murder. Either the prosecution or the police labeled the hair samples of Fritz and Williamson as samples from suspects. The prosecution placed great reliance on the forensic analysis of the hair samples, even though one of its experts had failed to conclude that the samples that came from Fritz and Williamson were consistent with hair found at the murder scene. It failed to share this latter piece of information with the defense. It also failed to share with the defense a videotaped interrogation of Williamson in which he had steadfastly maintained his innocence. The forensic experts engaged in some questionable activities also. It seems inappropriate for one analyst to re-examine evidence when another competent analyst failed to arrive at the result desired by the prosecution. It is also questionable that hair samples should be analyzed when they are known by the analyst to have come from a suspect. The second hair sample analyst also testified at trial that the samples taken from Fritz and Williamson “matched” some hair found at the murder scene. Virtually all court decisions agree that hair sample analysis is too imperfect a science to permit use of the term “match” (“consistent with” is the term that courts allow). The trial judge upheld an objection to the expert’s use of this term, but the jury had heard it and the damage was done. Perhaps the most egregious action taken by a forensic expert in this case involved the examination of a bloody palm print found on the wall in Debbie Carter’s [*606] apartment. The initial forensic analysis concluded that the palm print was not that of Fritz, Williamson, or Debbie Carter. This was a potential problem for the prosecution, because the palm print almost certainly had to have been left either by the victim or one of the killers. Since it was not Debbie’s and did not come from Fritz and Williamson, it could be argued persuasively that the true killer had still not been found. The prosecution’s solution to this dilemma was to have Debbie Carter’s body exhumed and her palm print examined again. The forensic expert who did the initial analysis did it again and changed his mind, concluding that the bloody print on the wall was indeed Debbie Carter’s. In his 24-year career, this forensic expert had never changed his mind before. The trial judge can also be criticized. When it became apparent during the cross-examination of one of the investigating officers that the videotaped interrogation in which Williamson maintained his innocence had not been shared with the defense (a clear violation of the Supreme Court case, BRADY v. MARYLAND), the judge decided not to rule on the defense’s motion for a retrial until after the trial. After trial, he ruled that withholding the videotape was not a violation of BRADY. As we have seen, the hair sample analysis was critical to the prosecution’s case, but the trial judge refused to appoint an expert for the defense to permit it to conduct its own hair sample analysis. Perhaps the most questionable action taken by the trial judge was his failure to require that Williamson be examined for mental competency. While the responsibility to raise this issue lay primarily with the defense attorney, the trial judge had observed so many instances of strange and erratic behavior on the part of Ron Williamson that he almost certainly should have ordered a competency evaluation on his own initiative. One of the things that the literature on wrongful convictions makes abundantly clear is that, once a defendant has been convicted at a trial when there are serious questions regarding actual guilt, the likelihood that the defendant will ever be exonerated by the court system becomes extremely slim. Appellate courts only hear legal issues and do not generally review facts (such as the guilt or innocence of the defendant). Thus, Ron Williamson was clearly facing an uphill battle. However, it was exactly at this point that the system began to perform better. First, Williamson was represented by a series of indigent defense counsel (working as part of the public defender system in Oklahoma) who took their responsibilities very seriously indeed. All of them performed their duties conscientiously (although one might question whether Williamson should have had five different attorneys assigned to his case at various stages, with each new attorney being required to familiarize himself or herself with the case from scratch). In spite of the conscientious efforts of these attorneys, they lost all their motions in the state appellate courts. (The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals did conclude that errors had been made at Williamson’s trial, but it [*607] also concluded that they were all harmless errors that had not affected the verdict). This left the case at the stage where federal habeas corpus relief could be sought, and Williamson was assigned yet another attorney, Janet Chesley, to handle this proceeding. Habeas corpus petitions are notoriously unappealing to federal judges (in no small part because most of them are crafted by prison inmates). However, the petition put together by Chesley was well-written and organized and immediately caught the eye of the US Magistrate assigned to review it by US District Judge Frank Seay. Her petition focused on the performance of the defense attorney (a common tactic because it is a back-handed way of arguing the defendant’s innocence), the failure to evaluate Williamson’s mental competency, and the reliability of the hair sample analysis. The magistrate asked two law clerks in Judge Seay’s office review the petition as well. All three read the entire trial transcript and agreed that Williamson had not received a fair trial. After lengthy consideration, Williamson’s execution was stayed, five days before it was to take place. One year after granting the stay of execution, Judge Seay granted Williamson’s habeas petition and ordered a new trial. Several bases for the decision were cited, but the most important were the ineffectiveness of Williamson’s trial attorney, admission of the hair sample analysis, denial of the defense request for its own hair sample expert, and failure of the trial court to look into Williamson’s mental competency. The state appealed, and the order for retrial was upheld. At retrial, a competency hearing was conducted, and Williamson was found incompetent to stand trial. The defense knew that Williamson might well become competent with the assistance of medication, so it prepared for a new trial. It persuaded Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project to take on the case because it concluded that much forensic evidence in the case had not been properly analyzed. In early 1999, the semen found on Debbie Carter and at the crime scene was subjected to the latest DNA technology. That analysis excluded both Williamson and Fritz as sources of the semen. The prosecution still resisted a motion to dismiss, however, and insisted that the hair samples be analyzed also. When that DNA analysis also failed to match Williamson and Fritz, the prosecution finally agreed to dismiss the charges against both, and they were released. In an interesting post-script, the DNA analyses suggested that the semen found in Debbie Carter’s vagina was that of Glen Gore, who was in prison for another offense. When he heard from national reporters that they wanted to talk with him, he surmised that he was now a suspect in the Carter murder. (Two of Williamson’s attorneys had questioned Gore, suggesting that they thought he might have killed Debbie Carter). However, prison authorities had not been informed of this, so they did not remove him from an out-of-prison work detail to which he was assigned. The day after hearing from the reporters, Gore simply walked away from his work [*608] site. Six days later he turned himself in. Four years later he was convicted of Debbie Carter’s murder and awarded a death sentence (later reduced to life imprisonment as a result of appellate proceedings). John Grisham is both a storyteller and a lawyer. However, it is the storyteller that dominates this book. That makes the book very readable, but it detracts from the usefulness of the book as a pedagogical tool. The book has no footnotes (or index, for that matter), and Grisham seldom tells us the source of his information. For example, the story about the police officer who told a witness that he “might get lead poisoning if his memory did not improve,” reflects very badly on the police. However, the reader does not know why Grisham thinks this incident occurred, so it is very difficult for the reader to assess the reliability of the story. (Presumably the witness in question was the source, but Grisham simply does not share that information with the reader). Sometimes Grisham points to damning information that seems to reflect negatively on someone involved in the case, but his description of the information leaves the reader uncertain as to who knew what and when. For example, he is very critical of the police failure to investigate Glen Gore as a suspect. As described earlier, there was a lot of information pointing to Gore, but Grisham never makes it clear how much of that information was actually known to the police or when it was known to them. In addition, Grisham sometimes refers to cases or studies without providing cites to them. For all these reasons, THE INNOCENT MAN would be of questionable utility in a course on the judicial process, criminal procedure, or wrongful convictions. CASE REFERENCE:
BRADY v. MARYLAND, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
*************************************************
© Copyright 2007 by the author, Jack E. Call.
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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham * * * *
Fans of John Grisham know what to expect when his latest effort lands on bookstore shelves. Unique plot twists, evil villains, sympathetic heroes and a page-turning plot are the cornerstones of Grisham's work. THE INNOCENT MAN, his newest book, has all of these components in spades with one additional element: it is a true story. His first work of nonfiction will fascinate and frustrate readers as they ponder an American legal system run amuck. This is Grisham's nineteenth book, and in some respects it may be his most important. Fictional characters in fictional courtrooms may cause readers to think briefly about our legal system. THE INNOCENT MAN forces readers to take a probing look at and ask some serious questions about a legal system that, in important criminal cases, appears to be malfunctioning in every corner of our nation.
While THE INNOCENT MAN ostensibly is the story of Ron Williamson, who spent 12 years on Oklahoma's death row after having been convicted of a murder he did not commit, the book is more than Williamson's heartrending tale. Co-defendant Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted of murder but sentenced to life in prison. Along with Williamson he was ultimately exonerated by DNA evidence. Two other inmates, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, whose cases were interwoven with Williamson and Fritz, remain imprisoned in Oklahoma serving life sentences despite substantial evidence of actual innocence.
Ada, Oklahoma, was the venue for the outrageous events leading to the miscarriage of justice chronicled in this book. In 1982, that community was rocked by the brutal sexual molestation and murder of Debra Sue Carter. From the outset, the investigation was poorly handled by law enforcement officials, who incorrectly assumed that two individuals were involved in the crime. Promising leads were not investigated because police attempted to establish a case against Williamson and Fritz instead. Grisham records in vivid and excruciating detail how police hid evidence and ignored constitutional safeguards in their zeal to obtain convictions in the case. Sadly, they were ultimately joined in their effort by prosecutors and judges.
One difference between Grisham's traditional works of fiction and the factual accounting of THE INNOCENT MAN is his hero, Ron Williamson, wrongfully convicted of Carter's murder. Williamson is not the sympathetic character one finds in many of Grisham's novels. He starred as a high school athlete in baseball and was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 1971 Major League draft. His professional baseball career never achieved the promise displayed by his youthful potential, and he returned home to lead a life dampened by divorce, drugs, alcohol and small-time crime. Burdened by mental illness, his attitude contributed in many respects to his conviction. But Grisham's portrayal makes perfectly clear that Williamson's behavior in no way justified the outrageous actions of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.
It is perhaps one of the ironies of the law that while lawyers and judges failed Williamson, it would be others in those same professions who rescued him only five days before he was scheduled to be executed from imposition of his sentence of death. Lawyers from the Oklahoma death penalty assistance program and a courageous federal judge ultimately secured a new trial for Williamson. During the course of the investigation and preparation for that trial, Williamson underwent DNA examinations that would establish his innocence. It was one of the first big DNA exonerations in American courts.
THE INNOCENT MAN is not a book that Grisham planned to write. Speaking last month to University of Virginia law students, he described how he first came upon Williamson's story when he read an obituary in The New York Times. The headline of the death notice read, "Ronald Williamson, freed from death row, dies at age of 51." That simple sentence stirred Grisham's interest: "After reading the entire obituary, I knew it had the makings of a much longer story." He followed up with interviews and has written a brilliant documentation of how innocent defendants are sentenced to prison far too often in America. His research and writing have caused him to take a long hard look at justice in our nation: "Even if you support the death penalty, you cannot support the death penalty system as it stands in the U.S. My one hope is that people realize this system we have is simply too unfair to continue."
Two of America's greatest courtroom novelists are John Grisham and Scott Turow, who have written about murder and death in our halls of justice. How ironic that both have begun now to speak out about the injustice of capital punishment. Grisham does so in a voice loud and clear and through a book that fully explains why the nation needs to reexamine the process by which we sentence criminals to be executed.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers! |
About this Reader's Guide

The Innocent Man unfolds with the taut suspense, intriguing characters, and vivid scenes that have made John Grisham one of the most widely read novelists in America. But this time, he’s reporting on actual events–and a courtroom drama that results in a real-life nightmare for all the wrong people. Sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, Ron Williamson experienced a flagrant miscarriage of justice so regrettably common in criminal prosecutions across the country. His story will leave you hungering for answers; whether you read it with a group of friends or as part of a forum, The Innocent Man is not a book you will want to keep to yourself. This guide is designed to enhance your discussion of Ron Williamson’s story, furthering the conversation begun by John Grisham. We hope it will enhance your experience of this chilling walk with the accused.

Reader's Guide 1. What were your initial impressions of Ron Williamson? How did your attitudes toward him shift throughout The Innocent Man?

2. Discuss the setting of Ada, Oklahoma, as if it were one of the characters in the book. What were your opinions as Grisham described Ada’s landscape–a vibrant small town dotted with relics of a long-gone oil boom–and the region’s history of Wild West justice?

3. In your opinion, why was Glen Gore overlooked as a suspect? Were mistakes made as a result of media pressure to find justice for Debbie Carter and her family? How did Dennis Fritz’s knowledge of the drug scandal affect the manhunt? Was injustice in Ada simply due to arrogance?

4. How was Dennis different from Ron? Why didn’t Dennis confess, while Tommy Ward and Karl Fotenot did? Did refusing to confess help Dennis in the long run?

5. As you read about the court proceedings, what reactions did you have to the trial-by-jury process? Have you served on a jury, or been a defendant before a jury? If so, how did your experience compare to the one described in The Innocent Man?

6. What are the most significant factors in getting a fair trial, or an intelligent investigation? Does personality matter more than logic in our judicial system? How would you have voted if you had heard the cases against Ron and Dennis?

7. How does new crime-lab technology make you feel about the history of convictions in America? What might future generations use to replace lie-detector tests or fingerprint databases? What are the limitations of technology in solving crimes?

8. How did the early 1980s time period affect the way Debbie’s last day unfolded, and the way her killer was hunted? Would a small-town woman be less likely to trust a Glen Gore today than twenty-five years ago? Were Ron’s high-rolling days in Tulsa spurred by a culture of experimentation and excess?

9. How did the descriptions of Oklahoma’s death row compare to what you had previously believed? What distinctions in treatment should be made between death-row inmates and the rest of the prison population?

10. What is the status of the death penalty in the state where you live? What have you discovered about the death penalty as a result of reading The Innocent Man?

11. In his author’s note, Grisham says that he discovered the Ada saga while reading Ron’s obituary. What research did he draw on in creating a portrait of this man he never knew? In what ways does The Innocent Man read like a novel? What elements keep the storytelling realistic?

12. Discuss the aftermath of Ron’s and Dennis’s exoneration. How did you balance your reaction to the triumph of Ron’s large cash settlement (a rare victory in such civil suits) and the fact that it would have to be paid for by local taxpayers?

13. The Dreams of Ada (back in print from Broadway Books) figures prominently in Ron’s experience, though the men convicted in that murder are still behind bars. What is the role of journalists in ensuring public safety? Why are they sometimes able to uncover truths that law enforcement officials don’t see?

14. Grisham is an avid baseball fan. How did his descriptions of Ron playing baseball serve as a metaphor for Ron’s rise and fall, and his release?

15. To what extent do you believe mental health should be a factor in determining someone’s competence to stand trial, or in determining guilt or innocence?

16. In his author’s note, Grisham writes, “Ada is a nice town, and the obvious question is: When will the good guys clean house?” What are the implications of this question for communities far beyond Ada? What can you do to help “clean house” in America’s judicial system?

Suggested Reading

The Innocence Project http://www.innocenceproject.org The Innocence Project: Ron Williamson http://www.innocenceproject.org/case/ display_profile.php?id=59

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) http://www.aclu.org ACLU Oklahoma http://www.acluok.org The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty http://www.ocadp.org/news/stories/williamson.html Life After Exoneration Program http://www.exonerated.org/index.php Active Voice After Innocence http://www.activevoice.net/afterinnocence.html National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty http://www.ncadp.org Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/freeform/ publicwelcome?opendocument%20

Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty http://www.cuadp.org/ Catholics Against Capital Punishment http://www.cacp.org The Abolitionist Action Committee http://www.abolition.org Death Penalty Information Center http://deathpenaltyinfo.org The Justice Project http://www.thejusticeproject.org PBS Frontline: Ron Williamson Profile http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ shows/burden/profiles/williamson.html

Law Library of Congress & State of Oklahoma http://www.loc.gov/law/guide/us-ok.html US Government & Human Rights http://usinfo.state.gov/dhr/human_rights.html National Council on Crime and Delinquency http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/n_mission_main.html Center On Wrongful Conviction http://www.centeronwrongfulconvictions.org New Project Aims to Assist Exonerated Prisoners http://www.truthinjustice.org/LAEP.htm Find Anti-Death Penalty Advocates and Anti-Death Penalty Meet ups near you http://antideathpen.meetup.com Clark Prosecutor & Wrongful Conviction Sites http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/ links/dplinks.htm#ng

The Abolishment Movement
A Forum Dedicated to Abolishing the Death Penalty http://abolishmentmovement.mywowbb.com Amnesty International -- The Death Penalty http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-index-eng Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Dell. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Review

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Overview

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.

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Specifications

John Grisham tackles nonfiction for the first time with The Innocent Man, a true tale about murder and injustice in a small town (that reads like one of his own bestselling novels). The Innocent Man chronicles the story of Ron Williamson, how he was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit, how his case was (mis)handled and how an innocent man was sent to death row. Grisham's first work of nonfiction is shocking, disturbing, and enthralling--a must read for fiction and nonfiction fans. We had the opportunity to talk with John Grisham about the case and the book, read his responses below. --Daphne Durham 20 Second Interview: A Few Words with John Grisham

Q: After almost two decades of writing fiction, what compelled you to write non-fiction, particularly investigative journalism?
A: I was never tempted to write non-fiction, primarily because it's too much work. However, obviously, I love a good legal thriller, and the story of Ron Williamson has all the elements of a great suspenseful story.

Q: Why this case?
A: Ron Williamson and I are about the same age and we both grew up in small towns in the south. We both dreamed of being major league baseball players. Ron had the talent, I did not. When he left a small town in 1971 to pursue his dreams of major league glory, many thought he would be the next Mickey Mantle, the next great one from the state of Oklahoma. The story of Ron ending up on Death Row and almost being executed for a murder he did not commit was simply too good to pass up.

Q: How did you go about your research?
A: I started with his family. Ron is survived by two sisters who took care of him for most of his life. They gave me complete access to the family records, photographs, Ron's mental health records, and so on. There was also a truckload of trial transcripts, depositions, appeals, etc., that took about 18 months to organize and review. Many of the characters in the story are still alive and I traveled to Oklahoma countless times to interview them.

Q: Did your training as a lawyer help you?
A: Very much so. It enabled me to understand the legal issues involved in Ron's trial and his appeals. It also allowed me, as it always does, to be able to speak the language with lawyers and judges.

Q: Throughout your book you mention, The Dreams of Ada: A True Story of Murder, Obsession, and a Small Town. How did you come across that book, and how did it impact your writing The Innocent Man?
A: Several of the people in Oklahoma I met mentioned The Dreams of Ada to me, and I read it early on in the process. It is an astounding book, a great example of true crime writing, and I relied upon it heavily during my research. Robert Mayer, the author, was completely cooperative, and kept meticulous notes from his research 20 years earlier. Many of the same characters are involved in his story and mine.

Q: You take on some pretty controversial and heated topics in your book--the death penalty, prisoner’s rights, DNA analysis, police conduct, and more--were any of your own beliefs challenged by this story and its outcome?
A: None were challenged, but my eyes were open to the world of wrongful convictions. Even as a former criminal defense attorney, I had never spent much time worrying about wrongful convictions. But, unfortunately, they happen all the time in this country, and with increasing frequency.

Q: So many of the key players in this case are either still in office or practicing attorneys. Many family members and friends still live in the same small town. How do you think The Innocent Man will impact this community and other small rural towns as they struggle with the realities of the justice system?
A: Exonerations seem to be happening weekly. And with each one of them, the question is asked--how can an innocent man be convicted and kept in prison for 20 years? My book is the story of only one man, but it is a good example of how things can go terribly wrong with our judicial system. I have no idea how the book will be received in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, or any other town.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from The Innocent Man?
A: A better understanding of how innocent people can be convicted, and a greater concern for the need to reimburse and rehabilitate innocent men after they have been released.

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Customer Reviews

Book Review: The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
Reviewed By: A. Rolfingsmeier

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Amazon US PB Amazon US HC Amazon Canada PB Amazon Canada HC
John Grisham
Class/Genre: Non-Fiction Mystery True Crime
Non-fiction, Doubleday, 2006, 300 pages; 8 photo pages
“Just tell the truth and you’ll do fine.” How many times has someone innocent been given this naive advice before an interview with the police?
‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a basic concept of our Constitution. Yet, most lay people believe that if a person is arrested by the police, and charged with a crime, he must be guilty. The police are under tremendous pressure from both their superiors and the public to solve highly-publicized crimes. Before a defendant even appears in court, his mantle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has been ripped away, replaced by ‘guilty until proven innocent.’
Ada is a small town in southeast Oklahoma. The nearest big city is Tulsa. In December, 1982, fun-loving 21-year-old Debbie Carter argued with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Glen Gore in the parking lot of the Coachlight, a country-western honkey-tonk where she worked as a cocktail waitress. She pushed him away and refused to get into his car. Hours later, Debbie’s father found her viciously-beaten body in her apartment, her panties stuffed in her mouth, strangled with a belt, threats written on her walls and body in nail polish and catsup.
In Oklahoma, high school sports reign supreme, primarily football. In the early ‘70s, a baseball superstar emerged - Ron Williamson, with his windmill pitching arm, and lightning quick speed. Drafted by the Oakland A’s, Ron joined the cream of other high school athletic programs and quickly washed out. Although he was able to talk his way back into the professional ball clubs, by 1980, even the New York Yankees’ farm club in Ft. Lauderdale didn’t want him. Williamson, at age 27, was a has-been, and couldn’t accept that fact. Thus, started Williamson’s duel decline into alcoholism and mental illness, sleeping twenty hours a day on his sister’s couch.
Although no one else remembered Williamson’s, or his good friend Dennis Fritz’s being in the Coachlight the last night of Debbie’s life, one person made that allegation, and the police jumped on that ‘clue’ like iron filings to a magnet. Williamson and Fritz were arrested, charged, and convicted of Debbie’s murder. Williamson received the death penalty and Fritz, life without parole. Police and prosecutorial tunnel vision, jailhouse-snitch testimony, and junk science substituted for evidence in their trials. Not until fourteen years later, did focus shift to the person who actually killed Debbie Carter.
Innocent people are convicted in the justice system. Grisham recounted the stories of three other men wrongfully convicted in Oklahoma alone. Even if freed, the taint of having once been convicted poisons these exonerees’ entire existence. John Grisham is an author I quit reading long ago because his fictional manipulations of legal scenarios were too unbelievable. As an attorney, I found his fiction unenjoyable. However, his dissection of facts and lies in the Williamson and Fritz cases, and his knowledge of the body of criminal case law were highly-skilled, and worded to be readily understandable. I hope Grisham will write other true crime books in the future.
A. Rolfingsmeier
Reprinted with permission. Do Not repost without permission from the author, A. Rolfingsmeier
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The sleepy town of Ada, Oklahoma was rocked by a murder in the 1980s. A local sports hero, Ron Williamson, and his friend Dennis Fritz were arrested for the murder of a woman. The two had been in trouble with the law before and their bungled trials did nothing but cement their guilt in the eyes of the community.

As the title of the book suggests, Grisham’s nonfiction account of the crime, trial, imprisonment and eventual exoneration focus on the fact that Williamson was never guilty to begin with. It was both disturbing and eye-opening to realize how quickly the system can turn against you when you are arrested. It was also incredible to see how far forensic evidence has come in only a couple decades.

I tend to really enjoy books like this, I think it’s the journalist in me. I don’t read a lot of true crime, but nonfiction books chronicling some big event or injustice (think Erik Larson or Sebastian Junger) are right up my alley. Grisham’s knack for writing thrillers worked well with this subject matter. In another author’s hands it might have become stale and repetitive, but he made the whole process interesting. This one isn’t a new favorite, but I enjoyed it and I’d highly recommend the audio version.

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoy nonfiction books like Devil in the White City or The Monster of Florence, you’ll probably like this one. I loved learning more about the justice system and its inevitable flaws. If you are expecting a cookie-cutter Grisham novel with twists and lots of action then skip this one. It’s not fiction, so it won’t have the same breakneck pace of his novels. ( ) bookworm12 | Dec 28, 2012 |
Good read. The detail was excellent but the lines got somewhat redundant after a while. I can't count how many times a sentence started or ended with something like "...Ron was innocent after all". Got it... you thought he was innocent... didn't have to repeat it over 100 times.

One negative - the book was so clearly biased that it made me distrust whether Grisham exposed the evidence on the prosecution side. He made the cops, DA, judges sound absolutely clueless and nearly-criminally guilty. *Usually* I've found in life that neither side is quite so cut and dry. If the case really was as clear as what he explained then there are some seriously stupid people in Ada's law enforcement; however, I suspect that it wasn't quite so lop-sided. Anyway, it did the book disservice to be sooooo biased. ( ) marshapetry | Oct 12, 2012 | did not know how this could possibly happen- but only in America? was a bit bogged down with all the technical jargon, but it was needed to be able to tell the story - did like this book even though it was so different to his other books . Hopefully this will never happen again in the American justice system. ( ) Suzannie1 | Aug 26, 2012 |
I couldn't finish this book- only because how horrible the injustices of our legal system. I could feel my blood pressure raising everytime I picked it up. deep220 | Jul 11, 2012 |
John Grisham has done a wonderful job of telling the story of convicted murderer Ron Williamson and the people connected with his case. While I enjoy the occasional Grisham novel, this nonfiction is my favorite book of his so far. Incredible bungling by those in charge as well as intentional lies and misleading meant Williamson spent years on death row, not getting the help he desperately needed for mental issues. How sad, and how frightening knowing that it could have happened to any of us. All it took in this case was for those in charge to believe Williamson and Fritz were guilty and were determined to convict them, the legalities and ethics be damned. And even sadder that the case was not an isolated one. While as interesting and fast-moving as any Grisham novel, this story is also an important cautionary tale. ( ) TooBusyReading | Apr 22, 2012 | date ▼ | votes
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* By Rohini 05 Aug 2008
True Story of Williamson
John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man”, a true story is inspired by Ron Williamson’s life who was falsely accused of murder in South. This is Grisham’s first non-fiction novel. The story revolves around Ron Williamson who is staying with his mother in a small town of Oklahoma. He is a baseball player and wants to pursue his dreams but he is caught into bad habits of drinking, drugs and women. In 1982, a waitress, Debbie Carter is raped and murdered. The police is unable to solve the case even after 5 years. Later on they arrest Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. They both are found convicted. Dennis Fritz is given life sentence while Ron Williamson is sent to death row. The story of Ron ending up on Death Row and almost being executed for a murder he did not commit. This is Grisham’s most extraordinary legal thriller so far. Grisham has also discussed the controversial issues like death penalty, prisoner’s rights, DNA analysis and police conduct. Grisham tries to show the glimpses of legal system and its failures. We must appreciate his audacity to write about Ron Williamson’s complete story and challenge the legal system. Grisham's cautionary tale is excellently descriptive and a quick, compelling read.
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The Innocent Man

Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

By John Grisham

Field of bad dreams.

Drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1971, Oklahoma native Ron Williamson was a hero in his hometown of Ada. Injuries and wicked major league curveballs drove Williamson back to Ada, where he soon became better known for his way with a liquor bottle than his past glories on the diamond. Twice accused of rape--and twice exonerated--Williamson was the prime suspect when Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered in 1982. Prosecutors shipped Williamson to death row (his friend Dennis Fritz received a life sentence without parole) on the scantiest of evidence. Now legal novelist John Grisham turns his attention to this true tale of justice gone horribly--and nearly fatally--wrong.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Doubleday. 368 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 0385517238

Boston Globe

EXCELLENT

"In his first foray into nonfiction, novelist John Grisham ... has crafted a legal thriller every bit as suspenseful and fast-paced as his best-selling fiction. An Innocent Man is a page-turning and chilling descent into one innocent man's Kafkaesque nightmare of injustice and madness." CHUCK LEDDY

Denver Post

EXCELLENT

"It is not a feel-good book despite the exonerations of Williamson and Fritz. It is, however, an important book. Maybe with Grisham shouting out the causes and frequency of wrongful convictions, meaningful reform will occur in every jurisdiction, rather than only a few." STEVE WEINBERG

Oregonian

GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Grisham's message is clear: Each American is entitled to equal protection under law, and every American has an obligation to defend that right.... In vivid detail, Grisham exposes the outrageous and inexcusable investigatory tactics used by the local and state law enforcement officials who brought the charges." BOB VAN BROCKLIN

Washington Post

GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Grisham realizes that the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it kills the innocent as well as the guilty, a case that he makes simply by telling Williamson and Fritz's story. His prose here isn't as good as it is in his novels ... but his reasoning is sound and his passion is contagious." JONATHAN YARDLEY

New York Times

FAIR

"It is a reminder not only of how propulsively Mr. Grisham's fiction is constructed but of how difficult it is to make messy reality behave in clear, streamlined fashion.... In the face of such flagrant abuse of a suspect, Mr. Grisham has a hard time keeping sarcasm at bay." JANET MASLIN

Wall Street Journal

POOR

"[The Innocent Man] feeds the popular perception--nurtured by Hollywood and the news media--that death rows are teeming with wrongfully convicted men who just await DNA testing to set them free.... Opponents of capital punishment will point to The Innocent Man as vindication of their views, but it's not clear that their cause, in the end, is well served by Mr. Grisham's heavy-handed proselytizing." JOSHUA MARQUIS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Many of the literary skills that have established John Grisham at the forefront of mainstream legal thrillers (The Firm, The Pelican Brief) find their way into his first nonfiction brief: a razor-sharp sense of right and wrong; an eye for the unjustly accused; and a finely tuned legal mind. The majority of reviewers find Grisham making the transition to "real" life with ease: he turns out a compelling version of this confounding miscarriage of justice. Other critics find that Grisham's narrow view of the case undercuts its complexity and the philosophical issue at hand. In the end, reviewers' politics color their assessments. To most, it seems all to the good that uber-best seller Grisham is putting his weight behind this thinly veiled treatise against abuses of the death penalty.

INSPIRED BY

THE DREAMS OF ADA | ROBERT MAYER (1987): When two young men, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, were accused in 1984 of raping and murdering Denise Haraway, they were sentenced to death--without a body, without witnesses, and without hard evidence.

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The Innocent Man by John Grisham * 100 Comments * Like 181 * * * * 8
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Murder and injustice in a small town

In The Innocent Man, John Grisham tells the true story of Ron Williamson, a man from the small town of Ada, Oklahoma who was sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit.

This is a powerful book. Before reading it, I was 100% in favor of the death penalty. Now having read it, I believe the death penalty should be abolished.

How did this book bring about such a radical change in my thinking? After I give you a brief synopsis of the story, I'll explain how this eye-opening book challenged my deeply held beliefs about the criminal justice system.

Photo by Mike Coghlan. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Contents at a Glance 1. Check out Grisham's remarkable book here 2. The story of Ron Williamson 3. John Grisham discusses "The Innocen... 4. My experience reading The Innocent Man 5. Have you read The Innocent Man? 6. The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer
More
Check out Grisham's remarkable book here
This is the best book you'll ever read about innocent people being wrongly convicted.
Click on the book's image to read Amazon's "20 Second Interview: A Few Words with John Grisham." (It's right below the editorial reviews.)

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
From the Amazon book description: "Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham's first work of nonfiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller."

Source: Amazon's book description .
Buy Now
The story of Ron Williamson
A tragic story in America's Heartland
Ron Williamson didn't have much going for him. It was 1983 and Ron was back home in Ada, Oklahoma after his boyhood dream of playing major league baseball had fallen apart. Ron had signed with the Oakland A's and had played several seasons in the minor leagues. But alcohol and drug abuse combined with a shoulder injury derailed Ron's career.

In addition to that, Ron was beginning to show the first signs of mental illness - an illness that would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia. At the age of thirty, Ron was back in Ada living with his mother and trying to find work and stability.

As bad as things were for Ron, they were about to get worse. On the morning of December 8, 1983, the body of Debbie Carter was found in her apartment. She had been savagely raped and murdered. Only twenty-one at the time of her murder, Debbie had been a cocktail waitress at the Coachlight, an Ada nightclub where Ron was a regular (WARNING: spoiler ahead).

The Ada police believed Ron was responsible for Debbie's murder, but they couldn't put together enough evidence for an arrest. Finally, after several years of investigation, Ron was arrested for the murder along with a friend of his, Dennis Fritz. The two were tried and convicted. Ron was given the death penalty and Dennis was given life without parole.

While on death row, The Innocence Project , a non-profit organization that helps exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners, began working on Ron's behalf. Using DNA, The Innocence Project proved Ron's innocence. After eleven long years in prison, both Ron and Dennis were given their freedom.
John Grisham discusses "The Innocent Man"
John Grisham discusses "The Innocent Man" by innocenceproject | video info
31 ratings | 16,633 views curated content from YouTube
My experience reading The Innocent Man
My view of the death penalty changed after reading this book.
The Innocent Man is a story of bad police work, bad prosecutorial conduct, bad lawyering and bad forensic science.

I started reading The Innocent Man not because I was interested in the subject matter, but because it was one of the few John Grisham books that I had not yet read. I had no idea when I started reading it, that the book would cause a monumental shift in my view of our criminal justice system.

Before reading this book, I had long believed that all of the players in our criminal justice system sought justice for all. I was naive.

While reading The Innocent Man, I was shocked at the amount of incompetence and malfeasance that resulted in the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Franz. With each new revelation of wrongdoing by the authorities, my confidence in our justice system eroded just a little bit further.

By the time I finished the book, I couldn't help but wonder how many innocent people currently sit on death row.

There are two reasons that wrongful convictions are unacceptable. First, when we arrest and convict the wrong person, the real perpetrator goes free. Justice is then denied to the victim.

And secondly, a wrongful conviction creates a new victim. The life of an innocent person is destroyed.

An innocent person serving a life sentence can be released after being exonerated. If an innocent person is executed before he can be exonerated, that cannot be undone.

Because of this, I am now against the death penalty. The story of Ron Williamson - a man who was exonerated just five days before his execution date - has convinced me that our criminal justice system cannot be trusted to fairly administer capital punishment.
"Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in the country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same - bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, arrogant prosecutors."

From Author's Note
The Innocent Man, John Grisham, page 356
Have you read The Innocent Man?
Yes and I loved it.
Yes and it was just okay.
Yes and I hated it.
No, I haven't read it.
Vote or see the results
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Reply
AussieWriter Feb 8, 2013 @ 6:09 am
I haven't read this one yet but I like Grisham's work. *
Reply
RiaB Jan 31, 2013 @ 7:48 am
I need to find that! Love Grisham! *
Reply
Squidelle Jan 30, 2013 @ 5:21 pm
A must read! It's rather uncanny that Williamson dies of cirrhosis only 5 years after he was released. Great Lens! Thank you! *
Reply
JoshHanes Jan 29, 2013 @ 6:17 am
This is an interesting lens. *
Reply
Suunnyy Jan 24, 2013 @ 7:14 am
Haven't read it yet, but it sound interesting. *
Reply
Deborah-Diane Jan 23, 2013 @ 8:17 pm
I loved "The Innocent Man." It was a good way to introduce the Innocence Project to more people. *
Reply
skiesgreen Jan 18, 2013 @ 9:43 pm
It sounds like a powerful document. *
Reply
swapnal-sarang Jan 12, 2013 @ 4:29 pm
Pinned it *
Reply
traveldestinations Jan 11, 2013 @ 2:37 pm
This is one book I had intended to read and now I will. John Grisham is on of my favorite authors. *
Reply
Aunt-Mollie Jan 10, 2013 @ 10:46 pm
You make a good case. This is a heart-wrenching story. * Load More
4
The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer
This book played a role in the book "The Innocent Man."
Ada, Oklahoma has had more than its share of tragedy. This sad story by Robert Mayer chronicles a murder story that played a part in the Ron Williamson story.

The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer
While doing his research for The Innocent Man, John Grisham read The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer. Mayer's book is the true story of a young woman who was murdered in Ada, Oklahoma - a different, but similar case to the one Grisham was writing about that took place in the same town.

In Amazon's "20 Second Interview: A Few Minutes with John Grisham," Grisham says about The Dreams of Ada, "It is an astounding book, a great example of true crime writing, and I relied on it heavily during my research. Robert Mayer, the author, was completely cooperative, and kept meticulous notes from his research 20 years earlier. Many of the same characters are involved in his story and mine."
Buy Now
The Innocence Project
The Innocence Project plays an important role in Grisham's book
The non-profit organization "The Innocent Project" uses DNA to exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted of a crime. The organization plays a prominent role in The Innocent Man and the success of the book has contributed to America's growing familiarity with the organization.

Since the publication of The Innocent Man, the work of The Innocence Project has been documented in numerous articles, TV shows, and movies including "Conviction" starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell and the recently released "West of Memphis" from producer Peter Jackson.

If you'd like to learn more about The Innocence Project, click HERE.
"Murders and rapes are shocking events and people want justice, and quickly. They, citizens and jurors, trust their authorities to behave properly. When they don't, the result is Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz."

John Grisham

From Author's Note
The Innocent Man, John Grisham, page 356
Other John Grisham books about the death penalty
More excellent writing from the master of the legal thriller genre
In addition to the non-fiction book The Innocent Man, John Grisham has written about the death penalty in two novels, The Confession and The Chamber. Also, one of the stories in Ford County, a collection of short stories, deals with capital punishment. I have read all three books and highly recommend them.

The Confession: A Novel by John Grisham
Buy Now

The Chamber by John Grisham
Buy Now

Ford County: Stories [Hardcover] by John Grisham
Buy Now
Your "thumbs-up" is appreciated * 181
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RiaB Jan 31, 2013 @ 7:52 am
I am neutral on death penalty, but I do love ALL of John Grisham's books. When I finished reading my first one I went right to the second hand store and bought everyone of his titles I could find! He is a powerful writer. I will be searching for The Innocent Man. Thank you for sharing! *
Reply
davespeed Jan 31, 2013 @ 8:09 am
I think he's such a great storyteller. Thanks for you comments! *
Reply
anitabreeze Jan 29, 2013 @ 1:05 am
I've read every single one! I appreciate your lenses here and the way you have taken a stand. Here in Canada we do not have the death penalty and I that is a good thing. *
Reply
jercow75 Jan 24, 2013 @ 9:35 am
I haven't read much of Grisham's work either, but I will look for this one as well. Great job on this lens. Blessed. *
Reply
Magda2012 Jan 23, 2013 @ 8:02 am
John Grisham is my favourite author. I like all of his books. Good review. *
Reply
Just4Luck Jan 21, 2013 @ 4:17 pm
I am not a fan of Grisham's books but I would like to read this one. I have read enough of his works to know what are his week and strong points and I believe he shows his best in The Innocent Man. But the main reason is to unveil another cover of dirt from the institutions established to serve the people and fail. Every institution sooner or later fails. It is in the nature of institutions to fail.
Only we, the people, can improve the imperfections of systems made to make our life easier. *
Reply
skiesgreen Jan 18, 2013 @ 9:44 pm
You have done a great job here and it is now featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2013 and also on Spiritual links Saved Man from the Death Sentence *
Reply
davespeed Jan 18, 2013 @ 11:20 pm
Thanks, skiesgreen! I appreciate it very much! *
Reply
Jan 13, 2013 @ 11:14 am
I don't care for Grisham's fiction, but I'll probably read this book. There are many aspects of our prison system that concern me, and I'll be creating lenses about some of them as I go along. I'm new to Squidoo, and very excited to find lenses like this and some of your others. I'm bookmarking your main page for future reference. *
Reply
davespeed Jan 13, 2013 @ 5:25 pm
Catana, thanks for your comments. I'm glad you've joined Squidoo and look forward to reading your lenses (especially the ones about our prison system). I just saw from a visit to one of your lenses that you have an interest in writing about slavery. I have only recently learned about the extent to which modern slavery exists. I'm glad you're here and hope you enjoy Squidoo! *
Reply
rattie Jan 6, 2013 @ 3:51 pm
I'm reading 'The Racketeer' right now. It's brave and daring and so very credible. Think I have most of his books but the one I didn't much understand was 'A Painted House'. I loved 'the Innocent Man'. *
Reply
RenaissanceWoman2010 Jan 3, 2013 @ 1:33 pm
I'm not sure I can come up with just one favorite. I've been reading a lot of Grisham books lately. Getting caught up on those I missed earlier. Based on what you have shared, this is likely to become one of his books that stays with me forever. I appreciate your focus on such critical societal problems. May we all choose to be a part of the solutions. *
Reply
Susan52 Jan 2, 2013 @ 3:08 pm
I haven't read any John Grisham books in a long time. Looks like I'm going to have to read this one. You make quite a case for it. Thank you for being an activist! *
Reply
davespeed Jan 2, 2013 @ 7:52 pm
Thanks, Susan! *
Reply
SoyCandleLover-Maker Dec 31, 2012 @ 5:04 am
This one and Runaway Jury, which depicts the buying of a Jury's selections and decisions. *
Reply
wrapitup4me Dec 24, 2012 @ 7:53 am
This book and "The Confession" were both wonderful. *
Reply
Ajeet Dec 23, 2012 @ 3:10 pm
The Innocent Man is a great book. Thanks for this lens. *
Reply
OhMe Dec 21, 2012 @ 12:22 pm
The Innocent Man by John Gisham sounds like something that I would really like to read. I will check back after Christmas. I have so many books to read ahead of this one. *
Reply
SheSue Dec 20, 2012 @ 6:37 pm
I haven't read this book although I do enjoy John Grisham. He really tells it like it is. *
Reply
KandH Dec 11, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
I don't have a favorite but I do enjoy his books ... pretty sure I've read them all. This is a great review and I totally agree with you - I don't believe in putting anyone to death. Self defense is one thing and we don't live in a perfect world but that is still murder in my books - I certainly couldn't do it and cannot support it. *
Reply
ajgodinho Sep 2, 2012 @ 11:02 am
I've not read any of John's novels, but have seen a few films which were adapted from his books. It's sad to see innocent people become victims because of sloppy work resulting from the justice system. I've never been pro death penalty because I believe it's essentially murder for murder. *
Reply
LaraineRose Sep 1, 2012 @ 3:23 am
I have enjoyed all of John Grisham's books. The one I found most interesting was "the Client." You have done such a great job on this lens. Angel blessings! *
Reply
newbizmau Aug 27, 2012 @ 4:29 pm
Really surprised to see that one book changed your mind on the death penalty. This must be one great book. -Blessed *
Reply
olmpal Aug 23, 2012 @ 2:35 am
I have only read The firm and I liked it very much. The Innocent Man sounds very intereting. I think it is going to be my next book to read. *
Reply
seiboimisao Aug 22, 2012 @ 11:33 pm
All of his books are interesting and exciting to read.... * Load More
Show All Comments
The Innocence Project in the news
Read about the latest work of The Innocence Project
I'm glad to say that The Innocence Project is very often in the news because of their work to overturn the convictions of the wrongly convicted
Innocence Project Northwest wins right to DNA testing for felons serving time ...
Felons who serve part of their prison sentence in the community may now have the right to publicly funded DNA testing, thanks to a court victory won by a student representing the University of Washington School of Law's Innocence Project Northwest.
SMU film grad, Innocence Project work to free convicted man accused of 1983 ...
The levers of justice are proving less and less resistant for Texas prisoners waging credible innocence bids. Faulty eyewitness testimony. Lack of physical evidence. Witness coercion. In case after case in state courts, lawyers continue to expose how ...
After 13 Years in Prison, Man Found Innocent of Crime Freed
Daniel Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life under California's Three Strikes Law in 1999. Accompanied by his wife, Larsen walked out of court today a free man after a judge deemed him "actually innocent." Ted Chen reports from Downtown LA for the ...
Innocence Project client gets $13 million
Current and former University of Cincinnati College of Law students and Ohio Innocence Project staff this weekend are celebrating a second victory in the case of a Cleveland man wrongly convicted of murder in 2000. David Ayers, now 56, who had been ...
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The Innocent Man
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John Grisham Books | New book search | John Grisham Message Board | Get more information about this book | | | Plot Summary of The Innocent Man | "Ron Williamson, an All-State baseball athlete was sure to be Ada, Oklahoma's local celebrity when drafted after graduation to play for the New York Yankee' minor league team. He soon found out that his extraordinary ball skills in high school were not enough to make it in the big leagues. Cut from the team and back living with his mother in Ada, Ron takes to drinking, drugging and bar hopping. His desire to play professional baseball soon became an obsession and the first hint of Ron's mental illness came to light.
When a local woman was raped and killed in her own home, Ron became the first suspect. Because he was known as a strange character around town that partyied alot and wandered the streets late at night as well as living close to the victim he was the easiest suspect for the local polic to focus their efforts on. Due to the severity of the crime, the police believed there were two perpetrators and they arrested Ron and his buddy Dennis in connection with the crime. With numerous witnesses willing to lie for the prosecution, Ron and Dennis were soon charged with the rape and murder and facing a murder trial.
Being that Ron and Dennis could not afford legal representation, the court assigned them council and the investigations began. The townsfolk were anxious to have a resolution in the case and the prosecution pushed forward with lies and shoddy policework to find Ron and Dennis guilty. This case began before DNA evidence was widely used and they were convicted without any concrete facts. Ron sentenced to Death Row and Dennis was sentenced to life in prison, the story continues with appeal after appeal being filed on their behalf.
In the early 90's, Barry Scheck joined Ron's legal team. New technology with DNA evidence was enabling innocent convicts to be exonerated at appeals. This looked hopeful for Ron and Dennis since no forensic evidence in the past had been adequately used against them. The issue of Ron's mental capacity to stand trial had never been brought before the court as well."
Dana Riedberger, Resident Scholar | "This story is about Ron Williamson, a man falsely accused of murder. The story follows his life from a brush with professional baseball, to an increasing mental illness, to a false arrest, conviction and death row sentence. It concludes with his release from prison and continues until Ron's death from failed health.

The story also follows, in much less detail, others around Ron like his sister and lawyers and other inmates.

The stories main focus is on how justice became injustice in a small town. It argues that there are flaws in our justice system and it describes one example of that from beginning to end.

The story also details life with mental illness and also some detail about life on one death row prison in Oklahoma. "
Rick Colund, Resident Scholar | Find the best places to live in America! | Review Analysis of The Innocent Man | Our unique search engine provides a wealth of detail about books by breaking them down into many different literary elements, all of which are searchable (click here). | | Ratings are on a 1-10 scale (Low to High)
Plot
job/profession: - criminal (killer)
Job/profession/poverty story Yes
Period of greatest activity? - 1950+

Subject of Biography
Gender - Male
Profession/status: - accused criminal
Age: - 20's-30's
Eccentric/Mental Yes
Eccentric: - mentally ill - emotionally unstable
Is this an ordinary person caught up in events? Yes
Ethnicity - White
Nationality - American (!)
How sensitive is this person? - soggy whimpering jelly muffin - middling sensitive to others' feelings
Sense of humor - Mostly serious with occasional humor
Intelligence - Average intelligence - Smarter than most other people
Physique - very athletic - average physique

Setting
How much descriptions of surroundings? - 4 ()
United States Yes
The US: - Midwest
Small town? Yes
Misc setting - prison
Century: - 1980's-Present

Style
Person - mostly 3rd
Accounts of torture and death? - moderately detailed references to deaths - explicit references to deaths
Book makes you feel? - thoughtful
Sex in book? Yes
What kind of sex: - rape/molest (yeech!) - use of artificial tools
Commentary on society? Yes
Commentary on - justice system
Writer's slant towards subject: - very favorable - favorable
Story of entire life, or part? - story of nearly entire life
Is this a biography of several people? Yes
If this is a kid's book: - Age 16-Adult
Autobiography? Yes
Pictures/Illustrations? - None
How much dialogue in bio? - significantly more descript than dialog - little dialog
A LOT of info about personal vices? Yes
How much of bio focuses on most famous period of life? - 51%-75% of book
How much is philosophy rather than life story? - 0-25% of book - 26-50% of book | Most similar books to The Innocent Man | Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne | Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery by Norman Mailer | Confederacy of Silence by Richard Rubin | And Never Let Her Go by Ann Rule | Anyone You Want Me To Be by John Douglas | | |
Click here for more information about this book John Grisham Resident Scholar Profiles

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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
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Binding: Mass Market Paperback
EAN: 9780345532015
Edition: Reissue
ISBN: 0345532015
Item Dimensions: 74841956107
Label: Dell
Languages: EnglishUnknownEnglishOriginal LanguageEnglishPublished
Manufacturer: Dell
MPN: BK23679
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 448
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Dell
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Studio: Dell

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Product Description:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the Big Leagues, Ron stumbled, his dreams broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron’s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death—in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man’s already broken life, and let a true killer go free.

Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence—a book no American can afford to miss.

Amazon.com Review:
John Grisham tackles nonfiction for the first time with The Innocent Man, a true tale about murder and injustice in a small town (that reads like one of his own bestselling novels). The Innocent Man chronicles the story of Ron Williamson, how he was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit, how his case was (mis)handled and how an innocent man was sent to death row. Grisham's first work of nonfiction is shocking, disturbing, and enthralling--a must read for fiction and nonfiction fans. We had the opportunity to talk with John Grisham about the case and the book, read his responses below. --Daphne Durham

20 Second Interview: A Few Words with John Grisham

Q: After almost two decades of writing fiction, what compelled you to write non-fiction, particularly investigative journalism?
A: I was never tempted to write non-fiction, primarily because it's too much work. However, obviously, I love a good legal thriller, and the story of Ron Williamson has all the elements of a great suspenseful story.

Q: Why this case?
A: Ron Williamson and I are about the same age and we both grew up in small towns in the south. We both dreamed of being major league baseball players. Ron had the talent, I did not. When he left a small town in 1971 to pursue his dreams of major league glory, many thought he would be the next Mickey Mantle, the next great one from the state of Oklahoma. The story of Ron ending up on Death Row and almost being executed for a murder he did not commit was simply too good to pass up.

Q: How did you go about your research?
A: I started with his family. Ron is survived by two sisters who took care of him for most of his life. They gave me complete access to the family records, photographs, Ron's mental health records, and so on. There was also a truckload of trial transcripts, depositions, appeals, etc., that took about 18 months to organize and review. Many of the characters in the story are still alive and I traveled to Oklahoma countless times to interview them.

Q: Did your training as a lawyer help you?
A: Very much so. It enabled me to understand the legal issues involved in Ron's trial and his appeals. It also allowed me, as it always does, to be able to speak the language with lawyers and judges.

Q: Throughout your book you mention, The Dreams of Ada: A True Story of Murder, Obsession, and a Small Town. How did you come across that book, and how did it impact your writing The Innocent Man?
A: Several of the people in Oklahoma I met mentioned The Dreams of Ada to me, and I read it early on in the process. It is an astounding book, a great example of true crime writing, and I relied upon it heavily during my research. Robert Mayer, the author, was completely cooperative, and kept meticulous notes from his research 20 years earlier. Many of the same characters are involved in his story and mine.

Q: You take on some pretty controversial and heated topics in your book--the death penalty, prisoner’s rights, DNA analysis, police conduct, and more--were any of your own beliefs challenged by this story and its outcome?
A: None were challenged, but my eyes were open to the world of wrongful convictions. Even as a former criminal defense attorney, I had never spent much time worrying about wrongful convictions. But, unfortunately, they happen all the time in this country, and with increasing frequency.

Q: So many of the key players in this case are either still in office or practicing attorneys. Many family members and friends still live in the same small town. How do you think The Innocent Man will impact this community and other small rural towns as they struggle with the realities of the justice system?
A: Exonerations seem to be happening weekly. And with each one of them, the question is asked--how can an innocent man be convicted and kept in prison for 20 years? My book is the story of only one man, but it is a good example of how things can go terribly wrong with our judicial system. I have no idea how the book will be received in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, or any other town.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from The Innocent Man?
A: A better understanding of how innocent people can be convicted, and a greater concern for the need to reimburse and rehabilitate innocent men after they have been released.

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