Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The Innocent Man
John Grisham has been a favorite of mine for a long time,although I confess his books all started to run together for me the last few years. A friend gave me a copy of "The Innocent Man" a few months ago and when I found that it was nonfiction, I decided to give it a go. The story of a severely mentally ill man and his friend caught up in a murder investigation in their small Oklahoma town. A young woman is found murdered in her apartment, and there are few clues to go on. This was before the time of DNA and CSI, where cases are solved in less than an hour. Ron Williamson had a promising career in baseball until an injury sidelined him for life. He never recovered from the loss of his promise, and as he drifted deeper into mental illness, fell between the cracks of both the mental health and judicial systems. When he and his friend Dennis Fritz become the main focus of the local police, things go downhill slowly but surely. Questioned and answering honestly, both men feel they are not suspects and go on with their lives, only to be hauled in and hounded four years later, by a police force and prosecutor, anxious to have an ending neatly wrapped up. After being tried and convicted of a crime they didn't commit, the story shifts to their fight to prove their innocence and get out of a life and death situation. Dennis received a life sentence and Ron received the death penalty. Ron's deteriorating mental condition was of no consequence to the state, and with lawyers, who tried but failed to use everything at their disposal, with prosecutors, withholding evidence and with a public clamoring for blood, and justice, they didn't stand much of a chance. Their stories a harrowing and a cautionary tale for us all. Justice is not always blind and does not always prevail.