Eagle County book review: "The Innocent Man"
Vail CO, Colorado
Ron Williamson was a handsome white man who was popular with the girls. He was a town hero and a budding baseball star. He also was put on death row for a murder he didn’t commit, thanks to some overzealous police detectives and prosecutors bent on making someone pay.
Not even John Grisham could make this stuff up. And he didn’t.
“The Innocent Man” is the best-selling author’s first stab at nonfiction, and he delivers a compelling piece of literary journalism that leaves the reader bewildered ” not to mention a bit depressed, disgusted and angry ” that America’s justice system isn’t always just. In fact, it can be downright corrupt, yielding tragic results.
In his author’s note, Grisham tells that he became intrigued by the case of Ron Williamson when he read his obituary in The New York Times. The obit, titled “Ron Williamson, Freed from Death Row, Dies at 51,” grabbed Grisham’s attention, prompting him to learn more.
After all, Williamson, the chief focus of “The Innocent Man,” was once billed to be the next Mickey Mantle. And, like Mantle, he hailed from Oklahoma and could hit the seams off the ball. But after a failed stint in the minor leagues, Williamson’s life began to unravel. He drank too much. Got divorced. Mentally, he became unhinged. And he also was acquitted of two rape charges.
Williamson, indeed, was no angel.
The former pride of Ada, Okla., had become the target of the Ada Police Department, which was convinced he brutally killed Debra Sue Carter. The architects of the investigation ” the police and prosecutors ” used flimsy evidence and jailhouse snitches to build a damning case, ignoring signs that pointed to another suspect. And, disturbingly so, the trial judge didn’t blink an eye.
All the while, the town newspaper munched off the government’s plate as if it were serving gourmet barbecue, becoming its mouthpiece ” and part of the establishment ” along the way.
The sum of all parts was enough to convince a jury to sentence Williamson to death and the co-defendant, Dennis Fritz, to life behind bars.
Like his fiction, Grisham masterfully delivers “The Innocent Man” with an ample amount of suspense and drama to hold the reader hostage ” in this case, for 428 briskly delivered pages. And while the title gives away the outcome, Grisham’s narrative does a fine job spelling out a travesty of justice that cast an embarrassing shadow over not only the tiny town of Ada, Okla., but the rest of America as well.
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