Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reviewing John Grisham

We've taken note of but yet to post a review of John Grisham's new nonfiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.

Here's a good one, lifted from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Guilty until proven innocent ---- John Grisham goes all non-fiction in his latest miscarriage-of- justice tale

Accounts of wrongful convictions have earned Cook County a well-deserved bad reputation as a place where too many police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, forensic examiners and judges care more about clearing a case from the books than about justice. But miscarriages of justice occur all across the United States, including small cities not normally associated with corruption, such as Ada, Okla., where the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz live in infamy.

The arrests of Williamson and Fritz never made sense to those outside the criminal justice system. It was almost as if everyone involved did not care about whether they had apprehended the actual perpetrators, and did not worry about whether the actual rapist/murderer might still be at liberty, destroying other victims.

For those who keep tabs on wrongful convictions across the nation, the Williamson/Fritz case is legendary, perhaps the most egregious instance ever of incompetence and dishonesty by police, forensic examiners, prosecutors and judges.

Despite previous publications about this particular miscarriage of justice, the wrongful murder convictions of the two men have not made them household names. Best-selling novelist John Grisham could change all that with his first nonfiction book about the Oklahoma case.

Debra Sue Carter, 21, worked at a bar. At the end of her shift, past midnight, she walked to her car. Witnesses saw her talking to a man who frequented the bar and who had earned a reputation as an unpleasant guy with a hot temper. Carter made it back to her apartment, either alone or with somebody else. A friend found Carter dead in the apartment about midday.

After 16 best-selling novels that have made Grisham a household name and a wealthy man, the author has decided that truth is stranger than fiction. Because of Grisham's fan base, The Innocent Man is quite likely to reach best-seller status, too. Deservedly so, in my opinion.

During early December 2004, Grisham noticed an obituary in the New YorkTimes under the headline "Ronald Williamson, Freed From Death Row, Dies at51." How had he missed the original reports about the 1982 rape/murder,the arrest of Williamson and Fritz five years later, the trials and appeals, the brutal imprisonment of the defendants, and finally the exoneration of both men after the state of Oklahoma came within five days of executing Williamson and placing Fritz in prison for the rest of his life?"

"Not in my most creative moment could I conjure up a story as rich and layered as Ron's," Grisham said later. "And, as I would soon learn, the obituary barely scratched the surface. Within a few hours, I had talked to his sisters, Annette and Renee, and suddenly I had a book on my hands."

After researching the case, Grisham could not believe his good fortune as an author and his dismay as a lawyer who wanted to believe the best about the criminal justice system."

"With every visit and every conversation, the story took a differentturn," Grisham said. "I could have written 5,000 pages."

For all its strengths, the book barely mentions some factors. The most diehard advocates for the U.S. criminal justice system have mostly conceded that after decades of denial, wrongful convictions occur every year, in many of the 50 states, and frequently in the same local jurisdictions over and over because the same police officers and the same prosecutors refuse to learn from their mistakes.

4 years after Carter's murder, the lack of closure on the case -- there had been no arrests -- embarrassed the Ada police and the local prosecutor. There was an obvious suspect -- a man with motive, means and opportunity -- but, for unexplained reasons, the police never arrested him. Nor did they have any solid evidence on Williamson and Fritz. But, using Williamson's mental illness against him, police convinced the prosecutor that an alleged murderous dream Williamson had told them about constituted evidence, and that the dream pointed to Fritz as well.

Grisham's saga features a few heroes, including some open-minded, persistent lawyers, judges, private investigators and journalists.

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

(source: Steve Weinberg is a free-lance investigative reporter who writes frequently about the criminal justice system; Chicago Sun-Times)

3 comments:

Simran Khan said...

Hi
How r u doing?

Death penalty is an ultimate cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment. As we all know, a criminal is not born as such, his/her circumstances, life's problems and influences makes him so. Involved reasons include our inefficient and corrupt legal/judicial system as well. Police here easily and forcibly takes confessions from the accused by applying IIIrd degree torture and moreover some judges auction "judicial orders" for bribe.

In these cases, capital punishment is unfair & inhumane. Judges are human beings and so can err as well. No judge is god. If a hanged person is later found innocent can the judge bring back the dead to life? Death penalty is irreversible, irrevocable and fundamentally, has failed as a deterrent. The people who give an outcry for continuation of death penalty as a punishment, are biased, butchers and cannibals. Those condemned to death penalty are usually the poor, tribal, dalits or political dissidents, who are unable to afford & articulate lawyers who can efficiently argue their case. No rich & mighty criminal is ever prosecuted.

Some say, death penalty is a good return for killers; others think abolishing death penalty is the best. I think, our aim should be to kill the criminal in the human and not the human himself. Post your points on http://indiademocracy.com/article/user/article.jsp?articleid=art20061009215849 or
http://www.indiademocracy.com/blogs/template1.jsp?blogid=blog20061009215749

Ur new friend

Simran Khan

Simran Khan said...

Hi
How r u doing?

Death penalty is an ultimate cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment. As we all know, a criminal is not born as such, his/her circumstances, life's problems and influences makes him so. Involved reasons include our inefficient and corrupt legal/judicial system as well. Police here easily and forcibly takes confessions from the accused by applying IIIrd degree torture and moreover some judges auction "judicial orders" for bribe.

In these cases, capital punishment is unfair & inhumane. Judges are human beings and so can err as well. No judge is god. If a hanged person is later found innocent can the judge bring back the dead to life? Death penalty is irreversible, irrevocable and fundamentally, has failed as a deterrent. The people who give an outcry for continuation of death penalty as a punishment, are biased, butchers and cannibals. Those condemned to death penalty are usually the poor, tribal, dalits or political dissidents, who are unable to afford & articulate lawyers who can efficiently argue their case. No rich & mighty criminal is ever prosecuted.

Some say, death penalty is a good return for killers; others think abolishing death penalty is the best. I think, our aim should be to kill the criminal in the human and not the human himself. Post your points on http://indiademocracy.com/article/user/article.jsp?articleid=art20061009215849 or
http://www.indiademocracy.com/blogs/template1.jsp?blogid=blog20061009215749

Ur new friend

Simran Khan

Barbara's Journey Toward Justice said...

I noticed you read The Innocent Man. May I suggest the Companion book to it as they call it. Here is something I read about it. Who And Where Is Dennis Fritz, You say after reading John Grisham's Wonderful Book "The Innocent Here Here is a book that changed my mind about The death Penalty. "Journey Toward Justice",John Grisham endorsed Dennis Fritz's Book on the Front Cover. Dennis Fritz wrote his Book Published by Seven Locks Press, to bring awareness about False Convictions, and The Death Penalty. "Journey Toward Justice" is a testimony to the Triumph of the Human Spirit and is a Stunning and Shocking Memoir. Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted of murder after a swift trail. The only thing that saved him from the Death Penalty was a lone vote from a juror. "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham is all about Ronnie Williamson, Dennis Fritz's was his co-defendant. Ronnie Williamson was sentenced to the Death Penalty. Both were exonerated after spending 12 years in prison. Both Freed by a simple DNA test, The real killer was one of the Prosecution's Key Witness. John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" tells half the story. Dennis Fritz's Story needs to be heard. Read about how he wrote hundreds of letters and appellate briefs in his own defense and immersed himself in an intense study of law. He was a school teacher and a ordinary man from Ada Oklahoma, whose wife was brutally murdered in 1975. On May 8, 1987 while raising his young daughter alone, he was put under arrest and on his way to jail on charges of rape and murder. Since then, it has been a long hard road filled with twist and turns. Dennis Fritz is now on his "Journey Toward Justice". He never blamed the Lord and soley relied on his faith in God to make it through. He waited for God's time and never gave .