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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town    by John Grisham Amazon.com order for
Innocent Man
by John Grisham
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Fans of John Grisham are always glad to see a new book of his appear in bookstores. But non-fiction is a departure for him - The Innocent Man is a true crime story. Words on the back flyleaf state that '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 can't say it better than that.

In 1982, a young woman was brutally raped and murdered. The case remained unsolved for five years. Ron Williamson, along with his friend Dennis Fritz, had always been under scrutiny, because of their proximity to the crime scene and the testimony of an unreliable witness. A case against them was cobbled together to clear the books of a crime that had the small town of Ada, Oklahoma uneasy. Williamson and Fritz were arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder - which carried a penalty of death.

The ensuing trial was a hodgepodge of falsified evidence, testimony from jailhouse snitches, proof of threats to potential witnesses, and inaccurate findings for physical evidence. Ron and Dennis were sent to death row.

The story of the trial and their years on death row do indeed infuriate. The reprehensible actions of the judicial system from the prosecutors, and investigators to the judge certainly make one question the infallibility of court rulings. Another bone of contention of mine is the health care system, which failed Ron Williamson so many times. Dealing with any aspect of government is always difficult, but now I begin to understand why.

Innocent Man is well-crafted with the skill that Grisham always shows. Its story will stay with you. Be prepared to be angry and incredulous. The penalties handed out to Williamson and Fritz rival frontier justice where facts weren't really necessary. Just put on a good show for the courtroom and justice was satisfied.

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