Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Innocent Man

I think I've read all of John Grishams' books. I'm not sure really why since I'm not a super fan. Most are entertaining though and not hard to get through. On the back jacket, one review is quoted as saying "his best legal thriller yet" which is a far cry from the truth.

This is Grisham's first attempt at non-fiction. He says he chose it because of it's rarity. A white man in a white town charged with killing a white woman with white policemen, white lawyers and judge and jury. Apparently, the absence of racial tensions is profound to him.

This is no thriller, as you know the accused didn't do it from the title, and you know early on that he is eventually exonerated. So it is a story of his background, how he came to be the kind of guy that could be accused of such a crime and some background on pretty much every other character involved. You know a bit about his family, his friends, the victim, her family, the town, the baseball coach. Really, I found that it rambles and has a hard time staying on task. On the inside of the book jacket, it reads, "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." I found none to be the case. As with everything, those without resources, friends, money, mental capacities usually get a bad deal. It isn't fair. But I don't think it's a broken system. He had lawyers. Not the absolute best (by far), but lawyers. He refused so much treatment for his mental illness because he wasn't mentally fit to accept it. Whose fault is that? America's? His family's? I don't know. But he was sent to death row for a brutal crime he was found guilty of (that is the one thing that actually does disturb. That someone could be convicted with pretty flimsy evidence.) But that is in hindsight which is always perfect.

As Grisham lashes out at the legal system, I couldn't help but notice that it actually worked for this innocent man. Because it was a capital case with automatic appeals, eventually, someone working for a federal judge who can grant stays noticed the bad legal work. He got a stay, a new trial, new fancy lawyers and eventually a reversed judgment. It worked. He was robbed of time and freedom and there is no doubt that he was a victim of a mistake but he sued, and won several million dollars. Mistakes happen but I can't think of a better place for them to happen than in America.

Overall, I thought this book was too long, too haughty and really not that interesting. It would have made a nice magazine article. Real life is complicated and in a case like this, where there are so many people involved, Grisham stretched the readers interest too thin and in too many directions. If you are looking for a slow meander through a complicated legal system....this is your book.

1 comment:

Barbara's Journey Toward Justice said...

About Dennis Fritz - The other innocent man in "John Grisham's Book, "The Innocent Man". Dennis Fritz started his "Journey Toward Justice" July 2005.
July is when he started writing his book "Journey Toward Justice" in which he details his arrest and subsequent imprisonment until his release April 15, 1999.

Dennis Fritz was Ron Williamson's friend and co-defendant in the Debra Sue Carter murder case. John Grisham wrote about the case in his book,The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Grisham writes about Ron Williamson and his role in the case.
Dennis Fritz was close to Ron Williamson, and I am sure Dennis has his own stories about their life and times together.
John Grisham announced in 2005 he was going to write a book I decided then that if he could do it so could I", said Dennis Fritz. I am now on a Mission, and that is to bring about public awareness of false convictions." Dennis said, "It was a 12-year nightmare I suffered with my family for not doing anything and being completely innocent. That's a large part of the book, the obstacles and hurdles we had to go through.
The harm that it did to me was that it took 12 years out of my life and away from my family members.I think the strongest part of my book is the total anguish and misery that I go through from being totally excluded from family, including my daughter," Fritz said. "I would not let her come and visit me because of the activities that were going on in the visiting rooms.
I could not bear for Elizabeth to see what went on in that prison, so I restricted her from visiting me. It was not the kind of thing that any 11-year-old girl should see, and it tore my heart out by not being able to see her."
Fritz said. "I was subjected to indignities that no person should have to suffer, let alone a person who was innocent of the crime.""Just the fact that I was a suspect in a murder got me fired from my job," Fritz told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Five years after the murder Fritz was arrested, there was a delay by state exhumation of Debra Sue Carter after an incorrect analysis of finger prints at the scene was noted. Also, an inmate that Fritz was paired with eventually came forward and stated that Fritz had confessed to the murder.
This jailhouse snitch gave a two hour taped interview revealing what Fritz had allegedly confessed to him. This confession came one day before the prosecution would have been forced to drop the charges against Fritz. According to Fritz, when they went to trial, an overzealous District Attorney, Bill Peterson, had a case built on flawed hair evidence and jailhouse snitches who received reduced sentences for their testimony.

The detectives then told me they knew I had not committed the crime, but they believed I knew who did it. From the very beginning, I always told them I was innocent, but it made no difference."

"My family, my mother my aunt and daughter stuck behind me the whole way," Fritz said. "Through our faith and their belief in my innocence, that is what busted those prison gates wide open. If it was left up to man himself, I would still be in their today."

"Our love prevailed over the mighty forces of the evil prosecutions that went on then," Fritz said. "Love itself is the most powerful thing. No matter what circumstances love always prevails. It just took 12 years for it to happen. We would not let go that the good Lord would set me free one day."

Dennis Fritz now works with the Innocence Project in Kansas City, Missouri. He makes appearances related to "the innocence movement" nationwide. He is using a book he recently published, "Journey Toward Justice", as a vehicle to bring awareness of the overall, devastating effects of how false convictions can destroy people's lives and how mistakes can be made in cases. He travels the United States speaking to law schools and also hopes to reach prosecutors and judges