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The Innocent Man

 
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badbart
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:14 pm    Post subject: The Innocent Man Reply with quote


The Innocent Man

We've all heard about innocent men who have been convicted and sent to Death Row. But I wonder how many of us really believed the stories. I admit to having been a skeptic...but I'm now a true believer.

The Innocent Man is John Grisham's first foray into the world of non-fiction, and it's every bit as interesting one of his novels (all of which I have read and found very engaging). It may even be more interesting, with the knowledge that the events of the narrative actually did happen - as unbelievable as it often seems. They say that "truth is stranger than fiction." And this book proves it.

Ron Williamson was a pretty normal small-town guy from Ada, Oklahoma. He wasn't perfect - he was decidedly self-centered, irresponsible, lazy and guilty of a few lesser crimes, but for all his faults, he wasn't a murderer. Nor was his friend, Dennis Fritz. Yet both were convicted of murdering a girl they barely knew (Fritz had never met her) despite evidence to the contrary. The tactics used by the police, the apathy of the judicial process, the underhandedness of the prosecution...all these things led to their conviction.

I've never feared the judicial process and have always felt that "my innocence would exonerate me", if ever I was implicated in something mistakenly. But now I'm not so sure.

There are a good many heroes in this tale. But even more villains. One of the heroes was Judge Seay, a federal judge who actually took the time to notice the obvious abuses of the legislative process involved in this case. And then a good enough man to actually do something about it. When summarizing his decision to order a new trial, he added this as an epilogue:
Quote:

While considering my decision in this case, I told a friend, a layman, I believed the facts and the law dictated that I must grant a new trial to a man who had been convicted and sentenced to death.
My friend asked, "Is he a murderer?"
I replied simply, " We won't know until he receives a fair trial."
God help us, if ever in this great country we turn our heads while people who have not had fair trials are executed. That almost happened in this case.

We should all hope for such skilled, honest, and diligent judges, should we find ourselves in Ron Williamson's position. Unfortunately, I suspect judges of his caliber are few and far between.

In an author's note, John Grisham talks about how he came upon this story (he was as unaware of the events as they happened as I was) and was inspired to chronicle the injustices of the Oklahoma court system.
Quote:

Somehow I had missed the story of his release in 1999, and I had never heard of Ron Williamson or Dennis Fritz.

I read it a second time. Not in my most creative moment could I conjure up a story as rich and as layered as Ron's. And, as I would soon learn, the obituary barey scratched the surface. Within a few hours, I had talked to his sisters, Anette and Renee, and Suddenly I had a book on my hands.

Writing nonfiction has seldom crossed my mind - I've had rar too much fun with the novels - and I had no idea what I was getting into. The story, and the research and writing of it, consumed the next eighteen months.


There's also a section with 8 black & white pages of photos in the middle of the book, showing Ron, Dennis, the murdered girls (more than one mrder is discussed in this book), the lawyers and judges involved and the horrible state of Ron at the end.
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