Monday, February 1, 2010

The Innocent Man

The past four days I was frozen stuck in a house...kinda.  On Thursday and Friday there was a horrendous ice and snow storm here in Oklahoma City.  Sooo...what does one do while stuck in a house?  Luckily, if you have power (which we did-hooray!) you can do things like read, watch TV/movies and browse the 'net.  As my last post shows, I chose reading to be one of the major ways I passed the time stuck indoors.  This book, The Innocent Man, was recommended to me by my father and aunt and my curiosity peaked when I learned it was a true story with Oklahoma as the main setting.  It is John Grisham's only nonfiction novel and is based on the story of a man unjustly tried and convicted of a murder in Ada, Oklahoma.

When I first picked up this book at the store my dad told me, "I'm going to tell you the same thing Sis told me when I read this book-be prepared to be angry by the time you finish it."  I can attest to this sentiment.  However, I wasn't angry with the story when I was finished with it; I was angry throughout.  I breezed through the first 200 pages on Friday afternoon easily...the last near 200 pages had to be spaced out over Saturday and Sunday.  Those details I couldn't continue reading incessantly.  Grisham does an excellent job of telling this fact, for the first 20 pages I felt like I was reading a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation script.  I was hooked by page eight.  Good stuff.  I mean...not good, obviously...well written!  Have I mentioned my addiction to crime shows?  CSI and Criminal Minds specifically...David has to come in and instruct me to "shut off that crime drama" after a three hour marathon on Spike.

But, I digress...

What essentially occurs in this book is this...a woman, Debra Sue Carver, is brutally raped and murdered in this semi-small town of Ada, Oklahoma.  This is a town where people left their front doors unlocked and didn't worry about their kids while they were outside playing in the neighborhood.  After this occurs, fear ruled Ada and the police detectives were pressed for an arrest because those in town were demanding results!  A little bit of time passes, a couple of months, and another murder occurs!  This time Denice Haraway was viciously murdered...and the detectives still have no real leads on the first gruesome crime. 

Thereafter, the detectives, in their attempt to close the case quickly, relied upon poor witness accounts (one in particular) and faulty evidence handling to lead them to Ronald Williamson.  Within the first 50 pages of the book you learn the background of Ron and discover that first of all, Ron was no where near the crime scene the night of the murder and secondly, he was an easy target for the police.  Ron had numerous mental issues throughout his life and did not have the mental capacity or monetary backing to defend himself.  One thing Ron did have going for him in the past had been his athletic ability.  Being a former minor league baseball player, Ron had always felt he deserved better and expected others to help him along the way...this included when he was under charges for murder.  Ron wanted his sisters and mother to drop everything and purchase him a good lawyer.  He even surmised that "the powers that be" in the baseball industry would swoop in and "fix" all of these false accusations against him.  None of this would occur.  His family couldn't afford it and well, as for the baseball industry's "powers that be"...

Sadly, the story continues on and one of Ron's old friends, Dennis Fritz, is included in the murder case.  This being because the murder was so harrowing, that no man could have pulled it off himself...or so the conclusion the Ada detectives derived.  Unfortunately, Dennis Fritz does not have the means to defend himself either...though both vehemently declare their innocence, they both end up in prison.

Have I mentioned that Williamson's mental incapacity was never mentioned in trial?  His manic depression?  His personality disorders?  His mild schizophrenia?  Never.  Not once. 

Five days from Williamson's execution, a habeas corpus petition was granted, then after eleven miserable years in prison and on death row both men were finally exonerated based upon DNA evidence.

Do you think either man was given an apology?  No...the detectives and district attorney simply stated that there wasn't enough evidence to convict  And do you remember that one eye witness account they, the police, used to convict Williamson?  Yea, that was the real murderer.  The only reason he was not initially a concern was poor police work and oh, yea, he was into drug trafficking with members of the police department.  Nice, huh?  They took their sweet time convicting him...he was just sentenced to life without parole in 2006.  Debra Carver was murdered in 1982.  Williamson and Fritz were convicted in 1988, then exonerated in 1999.  Sheesh.

Williamson, sadly, died five years after exoneration due to cirrhosis of the liver, likely caused by the prescription drugs taken for his mental incapacities over the years.  His obituary was what spurred Grisham to write this true-life novel.

Basically, what I got from this book is that a couple of detectives felt the pressure from those in their small town to quickly find the murderer of a town any matter whose life they ruined.  Sad.  Good, well-written, compelling novel.  Sad, sad story.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to add this one to my list. I am intrigued.



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