The Innocent Man – John Grisham

Published by Century 

ISBN 978-1-8460-5038-1

 In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma  was Ron Williamson.  When he signed with the OaklandA’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 women.  He began to show signs of mental illness.  Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept 20 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 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.

I first thought this was another John Grisham thriller, until I saw True Crime written above the bar code.  Hmmm, I thought, this could be interesting.  And interesting it was.  The book tells the story of Ron Williamson, his rise to fame through his youth, his visions of grandeur, and dreams of professional baseball playing.  But the reality wasn’t what he expected and he returned home with grandiose ideas of who he should be, when he wasn’t.  His mental health suffered terribly and eventually he lived with his mother, sleeping in the den, living above her garage.

On the night Debra Carter is murdered, many witnesses saw her arguing with another man, and man who would later testify against Dennis and Ron.

This story truly shocked me, the tenacity and audacity of the police department involved.  Instead of studying the evidence to see where it led, they almost went as far as falsifying evidence so that they could pin it on the two men they thought were responsible.  In fact one would even go so far as to say that the evidence provided by the two suspects were tested first and foremost and found to be a “match” a very contentious word in the 1980’s court room.

Ron’s mental decline continued after sentenced to death row, a hard place for hardened criminals, but Ron isn’t really a criminal, and his cries of innocence are buried.  It wasn’t until they are nearly through all of the possible appeals before they find a judge who is willing to look at the evidence and demand a retrial, days before Ron’s scheduled lethal injection.

For those who love a good true story, this one, written by the court room master himself, is well written, looking into the lives of the men involved, the crime itself, and how modern forensics eventually found the men… well I can’t really tell you now, can I!  You have to read it for yourself.

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