The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Hardcover – October 10, 2006
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20 Second Interview: A Few Words with John Grisham
Q: After almost two decades of writing fiction, what compelled you to write non-fiction, particularly investigative journalism?
A: I was never tempted to write non-fiction, primarily because it's too much work. However, obviously, I love a good legal thriller, and the story of Ron Williamson has all the elements of a great suspenseful story.
Q: Why this case?
A: Ron Williamson and I are about the same age and we both grew up in small towns in the south. We both dreamed of being major league baseball players. Ron had the talent, I did not. When he left a small town in 1971 to pursue his dreams of major league glory, many thought he would be the next Mickey Mantle, the next great one from the state of Oklahoma. The story of Ron ending up on Death Row and almost being executed for a murder he did not commit was simply too good to pass up.
Q: How did you go about your research?
A: I started with his family. Ron is survived by two sisters who took care of him for most of his life. They gave me complete access to the family records, photographs, Ron's mental health records, and so on. There was also a truckload of trial transcripts, depositions, appeals, etc., that took about 18 months to organize and review. Many of the characters in the story are still alive and I traveled to Oklahoma countless times to interview them.
Q: Did your training as a lawyer help you?
A: Very much so. It enabled me to understand the legal issues involved in Ron's trial and his appeals. It also allowed me, as it always does, to be able to speak the language with lawyers and judges.
Q: Throughout your book you mention, The Dreams of Ada: A True Story of Murder, Obsession, and a Small Town. How did you come across that book, and how did it impact your writing The Innocent Man?
A: Several of the people in Oklahoma I met mentioned The Dreams of Ada to me, and I read it early on in the process. It is an astounding book, a great example of true crime writing, and I relied upon it heavily during my research. Robert Mayer, the author, was completely cooperative, and kept meticulous notes from his research 20 years earlier. Many of the same characters are involved in his story and mine.
Q: You take on some pretty controversial and heated topics in your book--the death penalty, prisoners rights, DNA analysis, police conduct, and more--were any of your own beliefs challenged by this story and its outcome?
A: None were challenged, but my eyes were open to the world of wrongful convictions. Even as a former criminal defense attorney, I had never spent much time worrying about wrongful convictions. But, unfortunately, they happen all the time in this country, and with increasing frequency.
Q: So many of the key players in this case are either still in office or practicing attorneys. Many family members and friends still live in the same small town. How do you think The Innocent Man will impact this community and other small rural towns as they struggle with the realities of the justice system?
A: Exonerations seem to be happening weekly. And with each one of them, the question is asked--how can an innocent man be convicted and kept in prison for 20 years? My book is the story of only one man, but it is a good example of how things can go terribly wrong with our judicial system. I have no idea how the book will be received in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, or any other town.
Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from The Innocent Man?
A: A better understanding of how innocent people can be convicted, and a greater concern for the need to reimburse and rehabilitate innocent men after they have been released.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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This is a horrific tale of wilful miscarriage of justice and the mental destruction of Ron Williamson. Grisham's deeply researched book lays bare the travesties of justice, life in death row and mental illness.
Can this happen again, the sad answer is, most likely.
Top international reviews
This book from what I remember is a completely different style from those earlier books! I found it fairly slow going at first and almost gave up (glad I didn't) as we follow the story of college sports star Ron Williamson in his pursuit of sporting glory, drinking, drugs & women.
The story starts to gather pace & becomes a page turner when a local cocktail waitress is raped & murdered. After 5 years of dead ends, the police have no leads and are intent on bringing someone/anyone to justice. Despite no physical evidence the police arrest and charge Ron Williamson with murder and set about making a case against him at trial and sending to death row.
It is while Ron Williamson is on death row you really get to feel the anguish & torment he goes through as he awaits the lethal injection. Throughout his time in prison he protests his innocents, yet no one listens as the Oklahoma justice system have their man, however crude their efforts were of "framing" him. I equally found sorrow for Ron, once justice prevailed & he was acquitted of all charges and he returned to his home town of Ada, where most including the church turned there back on poor Ron Williamson who had suffered years of injustice at the hands of corrupt police investigations, the prosecution, witnesses testimonies, evidence and even failed by his own lawyers. Finally he receives little in the way of an apology for his years living in "hell".
This book was heavy going in parts but nevertheless I think it is an important book as it does show the way in which ordinary people can not only be let down by the American legal system but to be so poorly represented as to be near unbelievable with maybe the death sentence as a result.
The book was not necessarily about race as various races suffered equally at the hands of overzealous prosecutors, poor defenders, inadequate judges and stooge witnesses who would say anything for a reduced sentence.
Well worthwhile reading and a credit to Mr Grisham for writing it.
The writing is excellent - I couldn’t put it down.
The book is not light reading. In fact it's often rather heavy. It gives an unedifying picture of American justice, too. But the author obviously felt the need to write this book, and he was right to do so.
Indeed, it makes you question the justice system in the US and how the police can invent a case against someone they believe to be guilty of murder. Even more incredible is that a judge and jury were deceived as well.
This is an excellent read that is also factually correct. John Grisham at his best!
It is the fascinating story of five wrongful convictions; of the five, after many years three were exonerated and released (one of them got to within six days of being executed) and the other two, if not dead, are probably still in prison.
Great writing by Mr Grisham - steady, clear, well paced and really drew me in.
A terrifying indictment of American justice and how some police and prosecutors work - look at the crime, ignore the evidence, decide who is guilty, look for evidence to support their guilt and, if there isn't any, manufacture it.
It is also an indictment of the American system of the local judiciary being elected and, thus, subject to the pressure of local public opinion.
I have always been a bit ambivalent about capital punishment but maybe inclined in favour of it; reading this has made me think seriously about it, recognising that you cannot justify having capital punishment sitting on top of a legal system which is rotten at its core.
A difficult but thought provoking and rewarding read.
Ron Williamson, the convicted man, is not a nice man and has done everything he can, throughout his life, to turn people against him. This book then looks at the challenge that faces the US justice system to try him fairly and consider that he might be innocent despite his bad character and prejudice surrounding him.
JG has a wonderful easy writing style and uses it here to put some sense into the confused life that Ron has lived. At the beginning of the book the number of characters is overwhelming but it does settle down as the story progresses.
It's too easy to say that the police were lazy with this case as you need to look at all the factors around. This is the story of a man who was seriously let down by the system and specific individuals in it who were more convinced by gut than evidence.
My only gripe is that halfway through the book there are a batch of photos - great photos but they do give away a lot of the story which is yet to be revealed in the text - bit of a plot spoiler!!
This story is one that JG has not made up but it is easy to see why he was attracted to it. It does get over complicated at times but is an important lesson to the justice system.
The reader is compelled to feel outrage at the gross injustice of the naked corruption in the judicial system of this Oklahoman county in the 80s.
A compelling and rewarding read that will not disappoint the Grisham fan.
How on earth was this ever allowed to happen? I'd like to think that it couldn't in the UK but somehow I'm not that sure. Of course, the one saving grace here is that there is no death penalty.
One thing I did get out of the book: If I am ever arrested for anything I am making absolutely no comment until a lawyer is present. May make me sound like I am paranoid (perhaps I am) but after reading this book I challenge you not to think the same way. And this is from somebody who, on the whole, think that the Police and our criminal law system do a good job under very difficult circumstances.
A great read and real credit to John Grisham for writing about this issue. It would have been so easy for him to have just churned out another fictional novel which may have sold more copies than this non fiction work.