Written By: John Grisham
Published By: Dell
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
When I heard about the story behind The Innocent Man, it was on Dateline, a television series. It’s a tale of injustice that is hard to stomach. The hour-long episode didn’t do the story justice. Could John Grisham? I have read countless John Grisham novels, but never even knew he had written nonfiction. Apparently, The Innocent Man was his first foray into writing nonfiction. I was excited to check this out, not just for the full story, but because I was interested in how this former lawyer and legal suspense novelist would convey the tale of Ron Williamson, an innocent man.
Ron Williamson was not what Ada, Oklahoma residents would call a model citizen. A former baseball prospect, once thought to be on his way to playing for the New York Yankees, Ron’s adventures on the wild side would prove to be his downfall. Forays into drugs and alcohol would cause Ron to lose his shot at major league baseball. Issues with mental health solidified his descent into alcohol dependency and anguish. He’d been accused of rape a couple of times and been exonerated. He’d been arrested for numerous low-level crimes and had spent some time in mental health facilities. But no one in his family could ever consider him a murderer. He could act a little scary, but kill someone? Brutally rape and murder someone? Not a scenario his family could accept.
But this was the picture the Ada Police Department was painting in 1982. They had decided that the brutal rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter was committed by Ron Williamson and a friend named Dennis Fritz that he hadn’t spent time with in months. Not that they had a shred of proof. Nor was this the first time the police department in Ada, Oklahoma had sent people to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Ron’s untreated psychosis made him virtually unable to assist in his own defense and his appointed attorney did not put on a stellar performance.
John Grisham provides us with a detailed look at how the justice system failed Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz…and so many others…in Ada, Oklahoma. He provides us with insight into the detectives on the case and the prosecutor who just couldn’t admit he was wrong. He offers us insight into the fabrication of evidence, the creation of supporting testimony and more – all that went in to framing these poor men for a murder they never committed.
Even though this is non-fiction, it has that feel of a John Grisham novel. You find yourself on the edge of your seat throughout both trials and the fight to overturn the conviction of two innocent men. Grisham describes Ron and Dennis’ lives before their arrest in such a way that you feel compassion for these two men and hope for their exoneration. Grisham’s revelations regarding the way these two men were set up will anger you to no end and make you wonder why the lead detectives and the prosecutor were never investigated for their egregious and unlawful actions regarding the murder of Debra Sue Carter and other murders in the town.
The Innocent Man was a captivating read from cover to cover. If this was John Grisham’s first foray into true crime books, I can’t wait to read more.