I have long been a fan of John Grisham's legal thrillers. His first written, but second published, A Time to Die was his finest novel in my opinion. Now I have finished his first work of non-fiction, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. The book is painstaking in its detail and it has to be a true story because if it were submitted to a publisher as fiction, it would probably be returned as being too implausible.
This is a terrifying tale of a legal system gone awry. And the fact that the wrongful convictions were eventually overturned, thankfully before a death penalty execution could be carried out, is of little solace. As Americans, we take great pride in the rule of law and the importance of those accused of crimes having fair trials. It is depressing and reprehensible when the system fails and when those responsible for the miscarriage of justice refuse to apologize or admit their errors after massive evidence led to a reversal of earlier convictions.
I found this to be a hard book to read because Grisham's laying out of the facts makes it so clear that the wrong men were on trial. But it happened. And it reminds us that we have to remain ever vigilant to protect the rights of the accused and to be certain that innocent people are not convicted and incarcerated (or worse, put to death by the state). It is also an important book in its laying bare the inadequacy of the rights and protections provided to indigent defendants.