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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town Hardcover – Illustrated, 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.
- Publisher : Doubleday; Illustrated edition (October 10, 2006)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385517238
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385517232
- Item Weight : 1.48 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.45 x 1.22 x 9.54 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #67,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from other countries
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.
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".
What saves this book is that it opens your eyes to injustice in the US before many convictions (not just those in this book) were overturned using DNA evidence.
There is no rating for the story - this is fact or as good as (insight from interviews). It isn't fiction. In terms of how Grisham presents this then I struggle especially given the 5* messages and importance of the content. I am tempering my rating due to the reading experience. It is too slow and frankly a tedious read in places - so much so I gave up once. On the second attempt I was reading the starting sentences of paragraphs to then only continue into the paragraph if it was interesting. I was only reading closely as the second half of the book progressed. Three stars it is for lasting impression.