Frequent visitors to the blog will be aware that while at University I wrote my dissertation on the fictional works of John Grisham. Stereotyping the Legal Profession examined the lawyer characters in his novels and the way they are used by Grisham to weave his tale. Prior to attending University I read The Rainmaker which captivated my imagination and made excited about the prospect of a career in law. However, it was not The Rainmaker that I believe to be Grisham’s greatest work, that accolade, at least in my own opinion, is reserved for The Innocent Man.
The Innocent Man is a true story that tells the tale of Ronald ‘Ron’ Keith Williamson of Ada, Oklahoma, a former minor league baseball player who was wrongly convicted in 1988 for the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada and was sentenced to death. After serving 11 years on death row, he was exonerated by DNA evidence and other material introduced by the Innocence Project and was released in 1999.
False confessions, government misconduct, bad informants, bad lawyering, unvalidated and improper forensic science all played their part in putting Ron Williamson on death row for a crime he did not commit. However, Ron’s case is not an anomaly of the US justice system. Since the death penalty was re-instated in the US in 1973 there have been 142 exonerations from death row, the last two occurring as recently as 2012. There has been over 1200 executions during this time. That means 1 in 10 people have been released from death row because they are innocent.
The Innocent Man is incredibly informative, presenting a harsh look at the realities of the justice system, and tells a true story that deserves to be told. In my opinion it should be compulsory reading for all law students even those that have no desire to specialise in criminal law, let alone assist in the defence of death penalty cases. It should inspire law students to want to make a difference and to fight injustice wherever they may find it and in whatever field they end up specialising in. Even if it does not directly inspire it should certainly frighten them into the realisation that even today miscarriages of justice can and do occur and the ramifications if they are not fought can be fatal. If it does not frighten or inspire them even a little then I would question why they would want to be a lawyer in the first place.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.