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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 4, 2012
Grisham's talent for writing legal thrillers serves the purpose of detailing the true story of Ron Williamson, a man wrongly accused for the death of a young woman in Ada, Oklahoma. This incredible story hinges on terrible police work, an incredibly blind-sighted (if not wrongly intended) prosecution, the repeated mistakes of a legal system that often seems to simply go through motions when it should be questioning itself, some integrity and the scientific and legal revelation that was DNA analysis. A harrowing story that will keep you turning pages well into the night.

Grisham mentions in several interviews that this was perhaps one of the more difficult books he has written simply because he needed to work much harder to check facts and verify information. As it deals with fairly recent events, the book has attracted quite a bit of media attention and the response of several prominent actors, namely the Ada District Attorney who has launched a self-published website to respond to some of the insinuations that are made about him and it is indeed plausible that in spite of Grisham's work, some of the information is presented in slanted ways. Nevertheless, I found myself puzzled and troubled by the potential errors of the legal system: How can the system get so wrapped up in itself to allow individuals who cannot be guilty to be sentenced to death? The book details some of the rubber stamping that goes on in the courts by the different courts and attorneys who refuse to question judgements made at other levels and makes the system look like a great monster that one is powerless to address properly. After reading this Grisham, you don't want to be falsely accused, you are grateful for DNA analysis, and you wonder how it too can be wrongly or poorly misused.
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on July 26, 2009
There are many, many arguments on both sides of the capital punishment issue. But perhaps one of the most powerful arguments against the use of capital punishment is that, every once in a while, the justice system goes seriously off the rails and makes a tragic mistake.

As a young man, Robert Williamson was an exceptionally skilled baseball player. Thinking himself destined for the major leagues, he began to lead a self-indulgent debauched life style that ultimately would lead to nowhere but trouble, self-destruction and severe mental illness. Robert Williamson and his alleged co-conspirator were definitely not nice people. But neither were they rapists.

"The Innocent Man" is the story of the blind, single-minded quest of the Oklahoma judicial system to arrest, imprison and execute a man for the 1982 rape and murder of a cocktail waitress. It was a very near call but, ultimately, Robert Williamson was proven to be innocent and released before his rapidly nearing date with the executioner.

Even those who believe in either the deterrent or the punishment argument on the pro-side of the capital punishment debate will be un-nerved by this near miss of a system gone so badly wrong.

Unfortunately, the writing in "The Innocent Man" is not as compelling as it might have been give the nature of the subject matter. But it is still quite gripping and certainly important enough that every thinking citizen should read it and make themselves aware that this kind of miscarriage of justice can and does happen.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
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I was trained as a lawyer and am a member of the bar (although I don't take private clients), but I haven't had much contact with criminal law. As a law student, I once assisted in the defense of a mentally handicapped man accused of attempted murder. From that experience, I was struck by how poorly the criminal justice system is designed for handling those who have mental problems. I wrote my J.D. thesis on that subject. This book brought all of those issues back to the front of my mind.

In recent years, many have been astonished to learn that DNA evidence has exonerated large numbers of people who have been convicted of murder and are residing on Death Row in one state or another. The legal theory is that ten should go free rather than one innocent person be misjudged. Clearly, the reality is nothing like that. Although there are many career criminals (that's how they earn their living), those who don't seek to commit crimes daily are often mistaken for those who do. For example, people with various mental problems will "act up" in ways that violate the law. Put them in jail, and they may attack a guard . . . making another law broken. The downward spiral can be pretty fast and dangerous for all involved.

In The Innocent Man, John Grisham has chosen an intriguing subject . . . the life of Ron Williamson, a favored son whose life once spread in potential glory before him as a professional baseball player. Due to chronic mental problems, Mr. Williamson's life began to unravel while he was still an athlete. After his athletic days were over, he often sought solace in alcohol . . . and sometimes drugs. Two women had accused him of rape, but he beat the raps. But when a local woman was murdered not far from his home, the police liked Mr. Williamson for the crime . . . even though he had an alibi from his mother. From there, a frame-up followed . . . for which Mr. Williamson later collected a large sum from the legal authorities. While in the criminal justice system, Mr. Williamson didn't get the treatment for his ills that he needed. As a result, he couldn't help defend himself. His lawyer was blind and seemed to be having a bad week, which made matters worse. Soon, he was convicted based on a faulty "confession" during which he described a dream and misstated descriptions of hair sample "matches." The death penalty was ordered for him. Over the course of many years, he endured inhuman treatment, abuse, and what amounted to torture while his physical and mental states declined.

Thanks to the dedicated work of those who do appeals for Death Row inmates, the conviction was reversed, and he was cleared by DNA evidence on retrial. A parallel story looks at the effects on his family and friends, one of whom was implicated in even flimsier "evidence" and sentenced to life imprisonment (who was also exonerated through the DNA evidence).

So who was the murderer? It was the main accuser who made up the testimony to avoid harassment by the D.A.

So should you read this book? If you think that the criminal justice system works like the show Law and Order on television, you should. Television doesn't capture the reality of what criminal "justice" is all about. There are major problems with how the accused are treated and what happens to those who have been convicted.

Will you enjoy this book like one of Mr. Grisham's thrillers? Probably not. This is a sad, depressing tale. And there's no happy ending. Novels are prettier.

As a nonfiction book, The Innocent Man has some flaws you should be aware of: Mostly, Mr. Grisham tries to tell you too much. For example, you'll read about dozens of instances of mistreatment on Death Row . . . not just enough to give you the idea. The same detail is provided for each aspect of Mr. Williamson's life during his ordeal. At the same time, in places Mr. Grisham tries to tell you with too little information. As a lawyer, he decides he wants you to appreciate the legal wrongs involved. But he doesn't give you enough background to understand what the legal rules are, why they are that way, and why you should care when the rules aren't followed. So you end up knowing more than you ever wanted to know about incompetence issues, but not enough to understand them.

This would have been a better story if it had focused on what it felt like to be Ron Williamson . . . but that wasn't really possible because of his mental problems. So the book's ultimate weakness as writing comes down to having selected the wrong person to write about . . . to some extent. But I'm glad that Mr. Grisham did write about Mr. Williamson. The story should be told, and most people will pick up the subliminal message in the book: This could happen to you!
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on December 19, 2006
"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."

Whenever I think of John Grisham, I think of all the joy that he has brought to me through his writing, and I am always happy to see his new arrivals.

An Innocent Man is a work of non-fiction taking place in the state of Oklahoma, in the small town of Ada, in the eighties.

When Debra Sue Carter, a cocktail waitress is raped and murdered one night after leaving a bar, the police pounce immediately on Dennis Fritz, and Ron Williamson; two young men of Ada. With no evidence or witnesses, it seems as though the Law wanted to have someone to bring before the courts to prove they were doing their job. These two unfortunate men kept claiming their innocence over and over again, but all to no avail. Their appeals fell on death ears. Eventually, Mr. Fritz was given a life sentence and Mr. Williamson sent to death row.

How did the judicial system work that out? Why did they not spend some more time trying to get at the truth of what really happened that night? They spend their hopeless lives behind bars until one day; someone gets the guts to tear this charade to pieces, bit by bit, revealing the plain truth of that night.

What makes you mad about this case is to see the amount of precious time these guys wasted in jail. It took a toll on their mental and physical health, and someone should have to pay for incriminating these poor guys.
Reviewed by Heather Marshall Negahdar (SUGAR-CANE 21/02/10)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2008
I'm currently reading The Innocent Man, about two thirds done, loving every page and feel compelled to comment. It's amusing at times, but more so frustrating and upsetting to see how the main character was treated by the police, the judges, lawyers and jury. Yes I agree the book is a little slanted against the police, but it has every right to be. Ron Williamson had his problems, but no one deserved to be treated as he was, and I commend John Grisham for shedding light on his story. Great book.
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on October 22, 2006
I wouldn't go as far as saying this is Grisham's best novel, but it is certainly one of his best. A very taut and gripping thriller that will keep you guessing from the start to the finish. A great read that I highly recommend. Also recommended is David DeMello's Dead Scare and James Patterson's Along Came a Spider.
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on June 24, 2015
Until two thirds of the way through the book when I googled the characters. Very well researched in true Grisham style. The misbehaviour of the cops and the prosecutor in Ada makes me want to throw up. Bill Peterson should have been run out of town.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2007
This book highlights a number of disparate points about the pursuit of justice and about lives lived on society's fringes: none of which make for comfortable reading.

It is made very clear to readers that Ron Williamson was mentally ill. It is also clear that the truth about a murder became lost and an innocent man came close to execution. In the meantime, a number of lives were destroyed while simultaneously some very admirable and decent human beings emerge.

This book raises, potentially, a number of issues about the death penalty in the USA, about the misuse of science in assessing evidence, and about accessing justice. The story I focussed on primarily was that of a mentally ill man who, because he could not work within the framework of the justice system, was denied justice during his trial for murder.

That Ron Williamson lived long enough to be exonerated is in many ways a tribute to his own inner strength, to his family and to a small group of people who believed him and supported him as best they could.

'Strong Survivor' indeed.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon October 29, 2006
As I eagerly began reading Grisham's first non-fiction book, I recall saying to myself that he should write more of the same. The true story of Ron Williamson clearly needed to be told, if only to expose some of the "behind the scenes" and "under the table" actions of the police investigators, prosecutors, trial lawyers and prison system that process our suspected and convicted criminals and maintain law and order.

The book reveals real-life examples of guilt by association, conviction by circumstantial evidence, the ease with which corroborating witnesses can be obtained, the unreliability of certain types of forensic evidence (regardless of what Grissom does on CSI), and how innocent men (and women) sometimes find themselves languishing on death row (or are even executed) due to shoddy practices by those who are supposed to presume them innocent. It also offers insights into the disease of mental illness, and goes into depth about what happens if the illness is not diagnosed and the person given the correct treatment.

Grisham indicates that he could have written five hundred pages on this case, and though he certainly caught my interest, I'm thanking my lucky stars that he resisted the urge. The writers on CSI or Cold Case could easily wrap this story in an hour with commercial breaks, but not Mr. Grisham. He rambles on and on, repeating the same testimony and crazy behavior of Williamson, the endless sacrifice of his family, and stressing over and over the ineffectiveness and ineptitude of the police investigation. While he hammers home the issues of negligence, I would have hoped for a little balance, maybe giving a little credit here and there to the "good" officers of Ada who I'm sure continue to keep the peace, day after day, but as it is, it seems biased against law enforcement in general, and the local police in particular.

Grisham skillfully skirts around the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, but certainly makes a point for the need for rehabilitation of the judicial system in cases of mental incapacity, and compensation for wrongful conviction. His leading man starts off life as a talented but extremely spoiled child, and ends it through illness brought about by his own demons, and although his sad story will undoubtedly leave a nasty taste in your mouth after you've turned the last page, you'll be wishing that Grisham would be more like Grissom and cut straight to the chase.

Rated: 5 stars for the story and 2 for the tedious telling, averaging out to 3.5 stars overall.

Amanda Richards
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on July 3, 2015
It was quiet the story Kept ones attention Enjoy all his books i have read
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