The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
The Innocent Man Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Author:John Grisham In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A's, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory. — Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits, drinking, drugs, and ... more »women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.
In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.
With no physical evidence, the prosecution's case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.
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.
Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham's first work of nonfiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book no American can afford to miss. « less
This book is a step out of Grisham's normal writing. Normally, of course, he writes fiction.
This book is every ounce the truth, and involves not one innocent man put on death row, but really three. All because of one small towns incompetent prosecutor and police.
The harrowing tale reads just like a work of fiction; you have to remind yourself every so often that someone truly suffered through this.
true crime AND written by a well-known author. I appreciate that Grisham has a reputation to uphold and therefore I know that I have a better chance of getting a well-rounded version of the story. This is not true with all true crime novels. It is an interesting read, makes me glad I live in the DNA test era.
I thought this was a great book. It's the true story of men wrongly imprisoned because we didn't have the techology we have now, because some men made deals and because certain law enforcement wanted to close the case....all of which I thought was very interesting, of course. But I also found it interesting and thought provoking to see what the false imprisonment did to the personalities and psyche of the men...those who wouldn't give up and those who did. Definitely a good read.
This book shocked and opened my eyes to the issue of sending innocent people to prison. I am from Oklahoma and grew up in a small town in the Panhandle. John Grisham nails what it is like to live in Oklahoma. The class culture and every thing is either black and white prevail. I never knew the state prison was in such bad condition. You assume you pay your taxes the government will make sure that at least the minimun standards are met. The mental health care was sorely overlooked, and because the family had no money there was nothing they could do. To see a man deteriate as Ron Williamson did and to be treated as he was in the various jail enviroments was heart breaking and shocking. I expected more from my home state and if it hadn't of been for Judge Seay an innocent man would have been put to death. How many more are there out there?
I'm glad I read this book, but it is not your typical John Grisham. At times I felt detached, as if reading a blow by blow account, when I wanted to read a story instead. In the authors notes he states that he could have written 5,000 pages. I think he had a hard time deciding what to put in and what to cut and it seemed a little fragmented. BUT, it is a good story and will make you think about the justice system and how sometimes instead of being blind, it has on blinders.
It was a long, sometimes tedious read, but I was compelled to see it through to the end even though I knew the outcome. I found myself getting angrier as I read the fabricated evidence against these men (Williamson/Fritz and Ward/Fontenot), but continually asked myself what I would have believed had I been a citizen of Ada at that time. Hindsight is 20-20; John Grisham didnt build this case overnight and it certainly didnt come to him in a dream. Along with Robert Mayers The Dreams of Ada, Grisham spent endless hours seeking out court records and reading volumes of testimony about the original accounts of the evidence and trials in these two murders. In addition, he interviewed many of the people mentioned in his book and toured the prisons as well. Once all the facts were gathered he was able to put them together so that the end result was ALL the evidence, whether hidden, fabricated, manipulated or true. We, as judge and jury after the fact, are able to see the whole story whereas residents and jurors at that time only had the facts as presented to them by people, educators and expert witnesses of their town and surrounding counties people trusted for seeking truth and justice. Im appalled that these men (all four of them) were found guilty, but not surprised. My hope and prayer, as well as Mayers and Grishams, is that Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot will also have an opportunity for a fair retrial where all the facts can be presented and the truth revealed, whatever that truth is. Of course, as Grisham mentions at the end, there is no forensic evidence so DNA testing cannot be done.
Sadder still is the tragic deterioration of Williamsons mental health. Granted, he was his own worst enemy, but surely somewhere in the system he fell through the cracks over and over again when he was unable to care for himself properly and when his meds were administered NOT for his benefit, but to manipulate his behavior to suit those who were in control to use his outbursts to their advantage during the trials. This is a very sad tale of injustice and social out casting.
Oh, that we could only learn from the experiences of others.
This is John Grisham's only true crime book. I found it very compelling. It's the story of two innocent men convicted of murder in a small town in Oklahoma. The details of the miscarriages of justice by the police, the judges, the prosecutor and the defense attorney are too bizarre to imagine, and yet they are absolutely true. One of the men was very much mentally ill when not medicated, and his treatment (and denial of treatment) by the prison system while he was on death row was pitiful. I don't have a lot of sympathy typically for convicted criminals, but I disapprove of emotionally torturing a mentally ill man and denying him medication that keeps him essentially sane. I don't want to give anything away. Grisham gives details of other miscarriages of justice in Oklahoma, particularly in Ada, and also highlights the Innocence Project. Pretty interesting and depressing read.
This is a story that needed to be told. John Grisham was the right man to tell it. I admire him for all the in-depth research he did and for his keen insight as to what it all really meant. He has done us all a service in telling us how the 'justice' system sometimes really works.
Please don't judge this book by just its story, or how it was written. The vital message to take away is that these horrors happened to these people and likely to many more who don't have John Grisham to write their stories.
It is sometimes not a comfortable read, but its message needs to be known to us all.