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The Innocent Man by John Grisham

By Diana Mican | Books | March 19, 2010 |

By Diana Mican | Books | March 19, 2010 |

John Grisham was flipping through The New York Times when he came across and intriguing obituary. The obit was enough to induce him to further research. It was an unbelievable tale of injustice that began with shoddy police work and continued throughout the court system. Grisham continued the research through case files and interviews with those involved.

The book could have been titled The Innocent Men for all the bumbling that took place in the town of Ada, Oklahoma, but it focuses mainly on one innocent man: Ron Williamson, a small-town baseball hero washed up and living a broken life filled with delusions and dreams of an impossible fame. One night in 1982 a young cocktail waitress is found dead in her apartment. The last man seen with her is never investigated by the police. They instead focus on Ron. Ron has a history of mental instability and wild mood swings. He is the odd man in town with an unkempt appearance and strange late night behaviors. The police believe that it was a two-man job, so they decide that Dennis Fritz is their other man as he had occasionally gone out with Ron. This is Fritz’s damning link to the case. No real evidence is ever used at the trial. There are prison snitches (paid for their services), faulty print and hair analysis, and a “dream confession” that came after a grueling interrogation. (Not the first “dream confession” used by the Ada police to nab their man.)

The indignation over this particular case comes not only from the so-called evidence presented at the first trial but from the denials of any type of mishandling of this case throughout various appeals. How long before someone finally stands up and says, “We did this wrong”? This case and the others mentioned throughout the book provide a window into the nasty side of the justice system. The men who fall through the cracks with no means to clear their names. It also highlights the efforts of those who see a wrong and do everything in their collective power to set it right. As right as it can be after life has been robbed.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Diana’s reviews, check out her blog, badinage.