By John Grisham
This book is a departure from Grisham’s usual fare. For one thing, it’s non-fiction. Also, the style is more direct. He sticks to the bare facts, which in themselves are shocking.
Ron Williamson was falsely accused and sentenced to death for a woman’s murder in Ada, OK in 1981. A man with serious mental illness made much worse by isolation and incarceration, he spent 11 years on death row, protesting his innocence the whole time. The police had nothing but circumstantial evidence, hair samples that were supposedly similar to the defendant’s (hair sample analysis is known to be unreliable), and confessions supposedly overheard by jailhouse snitches.
Finally, the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System obtained a retrial based on a DNA match from the crime scene with an already incarcerated prisoner, proving Ron innocent at last. The real criminal, Glen Gore, was the last man seen with the murdered woman, and had given hair and saliva samples not long after the crime. For reasons unknown (but hinted to be due to Gore selling drugs and doing favors for the cops) , Gore was not investigated prior to Ron’s false conviction.
The book also chronicles the conviction, appeals, and eventual release of Ron’s supposed partner in crime, Dennis Fritch. Two other men were convicted for another murder in Ada around the same time. Their trial, too, was a travesty, but those men remain in prison.
So, is everyone really innocent until proven guilty in our court system? Or does that only describe those who can afford a good lawyer? Certainly in these cases, poor legal defense allowed police fabrications and outright lies to railroad innocent men into prison for many years.