on November 27, 2006
Normally one to stick with a current craze or bestseller such as "The Time Traveler's Wife," or McCrae's "Katzenjammer" I instead opted for Grisham's latest. This was a nice change of pace. Summoning upon his past successes, Grisham crafts a part thriller, part atmospheric literary classic, and part law firm book, throwing in some baseball and a host of believable and interesting characters. The end result is a fantastic read that I could recommend for those of all ages.
This is Grisham's first non fiction book, and I really didn't know what to expect. It is a true story, based on Ron Williamson's experiences, and it exposes the underbelly of crime, corruption, and police antics. In some ways a muckracking novel, the way Sinclair Lewis's books are.
Also recommended MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides.
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.
on April 27, 2008
Well, this story we all agree is terrible, a young man who had a single dream, failed to achieve it, and collapsed and found himself in the center of a crime he didn't commit, in a utopia were fairness is the rule it shouldn't happen, certainly the character has suffered a lot, and the book faithfully exposes the legal system in that area to an unprecedented degree, it shows how the truth can and in many times is twisted, it has happened before and keeps happening again and on a wider scale internationally as well!
It is great to have a dream to pursue, but we must face the fact and move on when we can't achieve that dream sometimes, such attitude requires a balanced strong person, a thing our main character clearly lacked.
Don't get me wrong, when a person with such a difficult personality lives such a load life style, where a good time of the day and night for all it matters is spent in the places the main character used to hang out in, with such habits as mentioned in the book and in details, well you are bound to get into a lot of trouble and it will be more and more difficult for people to help you, especially if one keeps behaving in the way described, if one keeps scaring friends away. Why was this guy out of hundreds chosen for the crime?, yes the guys in the police department were certainly not the best, but with all the issues the main character had and kept having time and time again, he became an irresistible bait.
I think the story is certainly worth telling, and every one of us will extract different lessons, it is probably not as much worth being published, but probably being presented on a TV show like 60min. I sometimes found it hard to sympathize with the main character, or to be surprised with the mishaps he faced. I was however shocked from the profound legal misconduct which was made easy by the main character himself.
We do have a big role in creating our own luck and fortune, and our guy here was asking for trouble in many times, he went into a vicious down hill spiral with more problems hitting him, and with the personality issues that were surfacing with time, and with such a fragmented heath care and such a corrupted police department it was just inevitable to end up in this situation.
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.
on May 9, 2008
What would you do if you were suspected by the police of the rape and murder of a young woman? Whom would you turn to if you were convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence and shoddy legal tactics? Whoever believes we are all innocent until proven guilty hasn't truly been put to the test.
John Grisham's newest legal masterpiece hits home--and hits hard. Temporarily forgoing his status as a legal thriller novelist, he delves into a non-fiction tale that could be almost anyone's story. Ron Williamson had to rely on officials of a system that was corrupt and desperate, and he paid a terrible price. Twenty years of his life. Haunting, chilling and foreboding, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town gives us a glimpse into the life of a man hounded by police, found guilty because of fraudulent testimony from convicts and sentenced to death row.
Williamson isn't the only man wrongly convicted and sent to prison. Over the years, many cases have been appealed, and with new DNA testing and other evidentiary sciences in place, both Canada and the US have released convicted felons with little more than a "we're sorry". Grisham, a former criminal defense attorney, reveals a world of political power and policing agencies that show very little remorse for getting it wrong. It's hard to imagine that even now there are people waiting on death row or in prisons who are innocent of the crimes of which they have been convicted. Powerful and emotional, this is one book I couldn't put down!
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
on March 14, 2008
Forget Chucky or A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is a true horror story. It is amazing how the police and legal system in Ada, OK screwed up and then persecuted innocent men. In fact, it's not even over as at least 2 probably innocent men are still in jail today due to the abuses and frankly criminal investigations and prosecutions perpetrated in this town and county. And you know what the truly horrific fact is: many of the people who perpetrated this heinous injustice remain in the positions that allowed this!
As for the book, it reads like a Grisham novel. It's fast paced, easy to read but with lots of information and so engrossing that you can't put it down. Yes, you know who the real killer is or who is innocent almost right from the start but in no way does that detract from the story. As a family physician, I found the treatment of Williamson and the flagrant ignoring of his illness by most who should have known better to be awful.
Some reviewers have commented that this book seems slanted against the police. Well, duh! Grisham has researched this well and despite having a hard job to do, the police, and prosecution, in this case deserve to be slanted against. They did everything wrong and even when presented with evidence that should have changed the course of the investigation, persisted with the one they were on.
Overall, this is a very enlightening book, a good and easy read, quite thought-provoking and will get one thinking about the death penalty and its uses. Oh, and remember, unlike all Grisham's other works, this is a book of non-fiction, not a novel. It appears a few reviewers didn't realize that. As a true story, that makes it even more horrific.
... but it's not. It only looks like fiction in bad taste. Instead, this truly happened as described.
I'm not summarizing the story as the editorial reviews and most reviewers before me are quite descriptive.
May I just say that I think that every judicial system has its share of faults and flaws, but what's revealed in this book is simply astonishing and unbelievable from beginning to end. I can only hope that it rattles a few consciences whilst increasing awareness to prevent disastrous consequences for those involved.
As it always happens when I read J. Grisham's books, I've appreciated and enjoyed the clear and well structured narrative, even more so on this occasion. Being a real-life story, I'm sure it must have been quite a task to extrapolate all the relevant facts from all the interviews and paperwork generated by this case during the years, in order to present them clearly to the readers.
I bought this book through Amazon uk and the cover is different from this one. I don't know about the inside layout, but, should it be similar and contain a set of photographs published right in the middle of it, try to avoid peeking at them. Unless you already know the epilogue, some are quite revealing for the yet-to-be-read rest of the story. They don't actually "spoil everything" -in fact, whatever unfolded after turning those pages kept me on the alert and as incredulous as ever- but I still think it would have been preferable to print them at the very end of the book.
A part from that, "The Innocent Man" is highly recommendable.
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!
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)
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.