The Innocent Man

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In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the Big Leagues, Ron stumbled, his dreams broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron¡¯s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death¡ªin a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man¡¯s already broken life¡­and let a true killer go free. Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham¡¯s first work of nonfiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence¡ªa book no American can afford to miss.

John Grisham tackles nonfiction for the first time with The Innocent Man, a true tale about murder and injustice in a small town (that reads like one of his own bestselling novels). The Innocent Man chronicles the story of Ron Williamson, how he was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit, how his case was (mis)handled and how an innocent man was sent to death row. Grisham's first work of nonfiction is shocking, disturbing, and enthralling--a must read for fiction and nonfiction fans. We had the opportunity to talk with John Grisham about the case and the book, read his responses below. --Daphne Durham

20 Second Interview: A Few Words with John Grisham

Q: After almost two decades of writing fiction, what compelled you to write non-fiction, particularly investigative journalism?
A: I was never tempted to write non-fiction, primarily because it's too much work. However, obviously, I love a good legal thriller, and the story of Ron Williamson has all the elements of a great suspenseful story.

Q: Why this case?
A: Ron Williamson and I are about the same age and we both grew up in small towns in the south. We both dreamed of being major league baseball players. Ron had the talent, I did not. When he left a small town in 1971 to pursue his dreams of major league glory, many thought he would be the next Mickey Mantle, the next great one from the state of Oklahoma. The story of Ron ending up on Death Row and almost being executed for a murder he did not commit was simply too good to pass up.

Q: How did you go about your research?
A: I started with his family. Ron is survived by two sisters who took care of him for most of his life. They gave me complete access to the family records, photographs, Ron's mental health records, and so on. There was also a truckload of trial transcripts, depositions, appeals, etc., that took about 18 months to organize and review. Many of the characters in the story are still alive and I traveled to Oklahoma countless times to interview them.

Q: Did your training as a lawyer help you?
A: Very much so. It enabled me to understand the legal issues involved in Ron's trial and his appeals. It also allowed me, as it always does, to be able to speak the language with lawyers and judges.

Q: Throughout your book you mention, The Dreams of Ada: A True Story of Murder, Obsession, and a Small Town. How did you come across that book, and how did it impact your writing The Innocent Man?
A: Several of the people in Oklahoma I met mentioned The Dreams of Ada to me, and I read it early on in the process. It is an astounding book, a great example of true crime writing, and I relied upon it heavily during my research. Robert Mayer, the author, was completely cooperative, and kept meticulous notes from his research 20 years earlier. Many of the same characters are involved in his story and mine.

Q: You take on some pretty controversial and heated topics in your book--the death penalty, prisoner¡¯s rights, DNA analysis, police conduct, and more--were any of your own beliefs challenged by this story and its outcome?
A: None were challenged, but my eyes were open to the world of wrongful convictions. Even as a former criminal defense attorney, I had never spent much time worrying about wrongful convictions. But, unfortunately, they happen all the time in this country, and with increasing frequency.

Q: So many of the key players in this case are either still in office or practicing attorneys. Many family members and friends still live in the same small town. How do you think The Innocent Man will impact this community and other small rural towns as they struggle with the realities of the justice system?
A: Exonerations seem to be happening weekly. And with each one of them, the question is asked--how can an innocent man be convicted and kept in prison for 20 years? My book is the story of only one man, but it is a good example of how things can go terribly wrong with our judicial system. I have no idea how the book will be received in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, or any other town.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from The Innocent Man?
A: A better understanding of how innocent people can be convicted, and a greater concern for the need to reimburse and rehabilitate innocent men after they have been released.

Customer Reviews:

  • Too long and drawn out
    I really like John Grisham's other books, and I expected ths nonfiction book to be different but was disappointed. It appears that Grisham is trying to do a book similar to In Cold Blood, but the topic here is just not as interesting. It is quite long and actually boring until the last fifth or so of the book, but it takes perseverence to get to that point. I think a shorter format would have helped....more info
  • My Good Mistake
    John Grisham writes good fiction books that I always read when travelling, fast paced interesting stories with plots twists that keep the pages turning. While some are better than others, I will pick up a book of his when I see his name on the cover. I did that with this book not realizing that it was not his non-fiction standard fare. It was a good purchase because true events make this book even more gripping.

    Though it is a story that is often heard both in fiction and non-fiction works rlating to people who are innocent of crimes (trials, police investigations, and the rest), the fact that this is non-fiction makes it all the more powerful. It also brings to light things that we have all heard about regarding the justice system.

    The book is full of details that are important to fully understand the subject and though not as quick/easy reading when compared to his fiction, including them to me just made the book more intriguing and worthwhile.

    I am glad that I made a "mistake" and picked it up....more info
  • Wish I had not bought it
    I was very disappointed in this story, about 100 pages too long, the details were repetitive and I had to struggle to keep reading. Had it not been a John Grisham, I would have given up about a third of the way through it but I kept thinking it must get better.
    Next time I will check his book out at the library first. I gave this one away a few minutes after completing it. Big sigh of relief that I was done with it! ...more info
  • Eye Opener
    I honestly didn't know that I was reading non fiction until I was about 30 pages into this book. It kept me interested from cover to cover and it really made me think. It is so terrifying that innocent men and women can go to jail on such little evidence...I will not look at a deathrow inmate the same again. I'm so glad that John Grisham decided to write this amazing story!...more info
  • Innocent until proven guilty takes on new meaning
    I admire John Grisham for his work and depth here. It doesn't read like one of his thrillers, but it is gripping. I did find some areas a bit repetitive, but overall this is a fantastic narrative presentation of the facts, exactly how I like it in my favorite book type, true crime. I'm one of those softies who tends to really believe in innocent until proven guilty, and unlike Nancy Grace, I don't believe in circumstantial evidence for homicide cases. It'd be really interesting to get John Grisham (an ex defense lawyer, right?) and Nancy Grace (an ex prosecutor) together on a show. What a match that would be. The book feels long at times, but never bores, and I actually felt so sorry for the victims in this book. It was really interesting to see the photos of Ron Williamson before and after his ordeal. I was so captivated by this whole story, I actually went to the website of the prosecutor mentioned by the author in the book. It is interesting to see him defending himself. Please write more true crime, Mr. Grisham. ...more info
  • Innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent?
    This book started out in the town of Ada where Ron Williamson was to be the next Mickey Mantle. He played all through his young career and became good enough to become a professional baseball player. He then left his small town to make his dreams come true and soon he signed with the Oakland A's. He returned to his hometown a couple of years later because he fell into the bad habits of alcohol and drug use. He couldn't maintain a job anymore and ended up moving back home with his mother.

    In 1982, a waitress named Debbie Carter was murdered. The police were clueless of who the killer was, but they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. Then the two were charged with capital murder and were sentenced to the death penalty.

    In my opinion, the truth about the criminal justice system in America will shock you.

    John Grisham did a great job in writing his first non-fiction book. This story was a page turner from the beginning to the end.

    ...more info
  • The Innocent Man
    I found that this book was very well written and very apparent that it had extensively been researched. I felt that the book could have been wrapped up sooner than it was and could have been maybe 75 pages shorter. As a matter of fact, I ended up skipping some of the trial information because it was just too much and was putting me to sleep.

    I found it awfully sad that something like what happened to Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz could happen in a country like ours. It just goes to show that if you don't have money, you can literally get screwed by the judicial system, with bad legal representation. This, unfortunately, also happens with medical care. The ones that don't have are so much more in danger of getting bad, or no care/representation than the ones that can afford to pay.

    Something is wrong here, isn't it? ...more info
  • Compelling - But Is It the Whole Truth?
    John Grisham's The Innocent Man is a thought-provoking book on the wrongful murder conviction of Ron Williamson. True crime fans will not want to miss this one.

    Innocent Man is an intriguing tale that recounts Williamson's star-crossed life. Williamson began as a small-town baseball hero who was a second-round draft pick of the Oakland A's. Less than 20 years later, he sat on Oklahoma's death row for a crime that he did not commit. Grisham's descriptions of Oklahoma's death row are vivid and very disturbing.

    While I recommend The Innocent Man, I think that the book could be better. As is the case in Grisham's novels, there is little nuance. Grisham's fictional characters often strike me as caricatures who embody good or evil (but never both). In The Innocent Man, readers will have no trouble identifying Grisham's "good guys" and "bad guys." I much prefer writers who see "shades of gray" and who trust their readers to draw conclusions for themselves.

    I was surprised to see that a number of Amazon reviewers stated that The Innocent Man is a boring book; it held my attention for all of its 400+ pages. In fact, it made me want to read The Dreams of Ada, about two other murders in the same town.

    In summary, The Innocent Man is worth reading. But, in reading it, you have to deal with Grisham's shortcomings as a writer.

    ...more info
  • Too Slow!
    I normally love John Grisham's books, but this one was too slow for me. I didn't finish it and then made the mistake of rebuying it again at the airport thinking I had never read it because it had made no impact on me....more info
  • Grisham shows he is probably a better non-fiction writer.
    Grisham never surpassed A Time to Kill, in my opinion, in his fiction writing, but I've generally enjoyed his work. The Painted House was a very good book, and although fictionalized, it was based upon a true story, and perhaps now that he's made millions, he can afford to spend the time researching for non-fictional works. I hope so.

    Several of Grisham's books, the ones I've like least, were written it seemed to justify his being able to write off a vacation. Those books had clumsy facts about places and people in foreign lands, here in this non-fiction book, he sticks to the facts and creates a very interesting and thought provoking book (which is also, sadly, entertaining to read in the same way reading Ann Rule is entertaining, not because the subject isn't tragic, but because the writing is good).

    As for the social consequences of this book, I'm shocked that the DA wasn't disbarred and kept his job, astounding as his errors were, he kept his job. Much of the "justice" in America is sadly dished out by people that are working on careers, on both sides, and the results aren't always fair or just, for either side.

    Hopefully books like this will continue to be written and people will start to look at libertarian philosophy and how taking that view of the state might improve our current affairs....more info
  • great book
    I am not a fan of John Grisham--I have nothing against him, I just cannot get into his books. So when this book was recommended to me, I was skeptical.

    Immediately I was intrigued. I love true crime books that start with recounting the victim on the night of the murder, and then work their way around to the whole story. He set the book up well, and I was instantly hooked (although I did notice a striking resemblance to another quite famous author and their true crime work: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood; read the beginning pages of each book side by side and see what I mean).

    The story itself is amazing. I found every person involved sympathetic, but also difficult to like at times. The amount of details can be dizzying, but I enjoyed the confusion. This case is so ridiculous at times that it is hard to believe this really happened. But it did, and not too long ago mind you.

    I never thought the book was boring or dragging. I had difficult times putting it down, which lead me to read well into the night. I wanted to devour all 400+ pages as soon as possible because I was so intrigued, and dying to know how any of this debacle was resolved.

    Even if you don't like Grisham, you may really enjoy this book. I did. Highly recommended. ...more info
  • Quick Read About Long and Slow Process for the Truth
    The bare reality of the story is outlined in a few sentences near the end of the book: "When you don't have any money to defend yourself, you're at the mercy of the judicial system. Once in the system, it's almost impossible to get out, even if you are innocent." This is a direct quote from the accused - a boyhood sports hero, Ron or Ronnie Williamson, who went to the Yankees' minor league team in Fort Lauderdale, to only end up in death row.

    What happens in this book is everyone's worst nightmare. In fact, as stated in the book - it is a dream that became a nightmare.

    Mentally insane, the accused Ronnie Williamson was called to the police five years after a murder. He went, and took a polygraph, not knowing that it was the end of his freedom and the beginning of oppression the American way. Three hundred pages later, you have read the detailed account given by Grisham as to how this man lived more horrors in 12 years of imprisonment than entire communities endure in generations.

    Distilled into one paragraph, Williamson's original trial was a disaster which required a new trial. "Ron deserved a new trial for many reasons, chief among them ineffective assistance of counsel (blind attorney named Barney with limited resources and paid only $3,600.00). Barney's mistakes were numerous and harmful. They included the failure to raise the issue of his client's mental competency; failure to throughly investigate and present evidence against Glen Gore (the real murderer); failure to flesh out the fact that Terri Holland (a lifetime jailhouse snitch) had also testified against Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward; failure to inform the jury that Ricky Joe Simmons had confessed to the murder and had even done so on a videotape that Barney actually possessed; failure to attack Ron's confessions and suppress them before trial (the products of hours of oppressive questioning); and failure to call mitigating witnesses during the penalty phase."

    To be fair to the attorney involved, even Mickey Mantle - the subject's hero - had weeks of being hitless, constantly striking out in important situations, and being equally inept on the field. The difference is that for Mantle, it is only a game. This book shows the problem of being "off one's game" in law - a person can be sent to death row.

    And, thank God that Williamson's game involved a rain out. The game would be finished at another time, when Mantle was at his best, with new umpires, and the opposing pitcher was incapable of getting one past him.

    The end result was a man's catastrophic rise from sports heroics to a fall derived from a "bum arm" which bottomed out at death row, then to the rebounding rise of being the attention of the national news. Then gravity hit. As his freedom's furnicular ascended to newer heights, his health simultaneously descended. The stress, wear and tear of medicines, and just bad luck combined to make the 51-year old Williamson look and be fifteen years his senior. The sadness pervades with Ronnie and his family who unfortunately gathered a cornucopia of bad memories which cannot be covered or forgotten by good events like the efforts of pro bono attorneys or this book - a first nonfiction account by Grisham.

    Depicting the struggles in the court, describing in simple language the complexities of the courtroom, and making the endlessly inexcusable escapades of the criminal system of the small town seem personal, Grisham has the reader experience and feel like Ronnie - prisoner to the pitfalls and problems involved in American justice. Albeit the best judicial system on earth, especially in providing the accused rights to a fair trial, it consistently or even constantly fails when handled by less than extremely conscientious and proud professionals. And, too often we are human, which means too often human attorneys, police and judges are less than always conscientious. And that is when the perceived great halls of justice can be seen as less than hallowed.

    This was a great read for the topic alone. ...more info
  • A valuable expos¨¦
    By now, there is no excuse for starting to read this book believing that it is written to Grisham's usual formula. This is not a brilliantly written legal thriller. It is an excellent piece of investigative journalism, and it is very clear that John Grisham has invested a huge amount of effort into his investigations.

    He tells the true story of several wrongful convictions, concentrating mainly on the central character, Ron Williamson, who spends a considerable proportion of his life on death row and in other detention centres.

    Grisham exposes the flaws in the American justice system, which is under constant pressure from the conviction-hungry public who will not allow the truth to stand in the way of their passionate pursuit of somebody to blame for any heinous crime, who, whether innocent or guilty, will receive the heavy punishment that such a terrible criminal would deserve. This leads to deliberate, and institutional, incompetence amongst the investigators and the lawyers.

    For me, the book is far too long. I think that Grisham could have condensed the results of his rigorous investigations into about half the pages that he has filled. It is clear, from early on, what the outcomes would be. However, it is a valuable expos¨¦, and I hope that US citizens will use it as the basis for successful campaigns against injustice in The Land of the Free.
    ...more info
  • Grisham can write nonfiction too!
    I have read almost all of Grisham's books, so I was interested in this book simply as another Grisham novel. Then I read a description of the book, and realized that it is actually non-fiction. The story line still seemed interesting, so I ended up reading it. I had a few days off work, so I started reading it expecting to use it to fill up some inactive parts of the day. Instead I spent most of the next day-and-a-half reading, and I could hardly put the book down.
    This book isn't quite as exciting as Grisham's novels, but it is still very interesting. It doesn't take you very long to get into the story, and by the time Ron was put on trial, I was starting to get moody and upset because of what I was reading. I have to say that much of the book is actually somewhat depressing with the depiction of the "authorities" and their underhanded work. Of course, the whole book is biased in favor of Ron's innocence, so the evidence could be somewhat biased and misrepresented, but overall, I think Grisham tried to present the facts fairly.

    One of the main reasons that I did not give this book a 5-star rating is because of it's style. I'm not sure if it could be helped, considering it's non-fiction stance, but it was somewhat dry and boring throughout, and just enough drama to keep you fascinated.
    Another reason for the 4-star rating is because of the inclusion of the Ward/Fontenot(sp?) issue. It is an important inclusion due to it being the first "dream confession", yet Grisham followed Ward to Death Row (he was there part of the time Williamson was there), but then he dropped the issue and barely made another reference to that issue for the rest of the book. Grisham did put a link to a website for further information about that case in the ending author's note, but in my opinion he should have spent either less time or more time writing about that case. As it was, it started out as an important issue, then it completely dropped out of sight.

    Overall, I did enjoy this book, and I think it is a very important book. Few people think about the possibility of an innocent person being convicted. Of course, the advances in DNA evidence helps reduce the risk of convicting an innocent person, but it is still an important issue to be informed about. I highly recommend that people read this book....more info
  • Scary what if it were you.

    I prefer non-fiction over fiction but I have read several of his books and enjoyed them. With this book you pretty well knew the ending just not how it was going to get there. What made me look the book up was I saw in the paper where Grisham was being sued by the prosecution lawyer. Thrown out so far and after reading the book you have to feel the prosecution really blew this one. That is being kind. You can do a search and find the attorney's web-site with a rebuke of the book. ...more info
  • Extremely Enlightening and Sobering
    I never thought I'd enjoy a fiction book by John Grisham, but this one is simply amazing. It reads like one of his best selling fiction books, but the sad thing is, all of this is true.

    The book centers on the town of Ada, Oklahoma, a typical midwestern town where not much happens, and most people know one another. In the 1980s two murders are committed with very similar circumstances. The Pontotoc County police department and prosecutor's office focus on a former baseball star, now a washed up drunk with the early signs of mental illness, named Ron Williamson and decide he must be guilty of these two murders because an acquaintance "confessed" to committing these murders in a dream. The acquaintance only "confessed" to the murders because of an intense, and illegal, police interrogation, deciding to give the police the craziest story he could think of in order to get them off his back. However, regardless of this absolutely crazy "confession" the police take this seriously and, as Grisham makes clear, pass up clear evidence that Williamson didn't commit these murders, and arrest him. After his arrest, the Pontotoc County prosecutor's office puts pressure on witnesses to shape their story in order to convict Williamson, as well as use totally junk science, to convict him and get him sentenced to death row.

    This story is an absolute page turner, I read it in one day. It's engrossing, enraging, and scary. If any one of us was arrested by the police, Grisham shows it's very easy to get convicted of something you did not do, even with almost no evidence to prove you did it. Further, as Grisham notes, all of the individuals involved in Pontotoc County from the police to the prosecutor believe they got the right man despite all of the evidence to the contrary. They weren't looking for justice, they were looking to close the murders and make themselves look good.

    I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants a real look at how the justice system can sometimes get things horribly wrong. The innocent do get convicted, far more than we'd like to believe. ...more info
  • Not very compelling
    John Grisham does a great job creating fiction in the world of attorneys and their trade.

    This is the first non-fiction book I've read of his and I have to say, those that voted one-star basically got it right. It was a boring tale, a tale we've all read about these days; wrongly accused exonerated and returned to society, trying to fit in.

    My problem with this book is the main character: Ron Williams. Honestly this isn't a person you can conjure up much compassion for. He's depicted as a spoiled, self absorbed drunk and womanizer. A person who manipulated his parents and his sisters for his own benefit his entire life. A guy that couldn't seem to rise above spending any money he ever earned in bars and strip joints, wishing for what could've been, (major league baseball career). That he died of cyrosis(SP) of the liver is telling.

    I just wonder what motivated Mr. Grisham to spend the effort on this person or this case, as I said, cases like this are rampant in our judicial system. In the Author's Notes section of the book Grisham says he could've written 5000 pages on this case. Like many others I think he could have cut this book in half and it would have still been too long.
    ...more info
  • A Startling Book
    This was an excellently crafted book especially for non-fiction. The most important aspect, overall about the book is that the book didn't distort the real character of Ron Williamson. Grisham's descriptions about him Ron have been excessive but it did hammer home the point this was not a good person. At times, I tried to rationalize and blame the Ada authorities incompetence because of Ron's poor character. To be honest, at times I didn'r really feel that sorry for him.

    It is amazing to see how someone can be wrongfully prosecuted. After reading the book, I did some other research and found a website of the district attorney who prosecuted the case. The website does show evidence that the DA is virtually clueless. There is tons of rambling text but none of it seems to address the lack of evidence and why he prosecuted with such little evidence. The book doesn't appear to be exaggerate the facts to sell.

    ...more info
  • The Innocent Man
    This is the first non-fiction book that I have ever tried to read. Kudos to John Grisham for learning about this story and for writing it. I have always heard of people going to prison for crimes that they did not commit, but have never known anyone. This story will make you open your eyes.

    This novel is based on Ron Williamson, baseball hero in the small town of Ada, Ok. Ada had high hopes that their hero would be taken to the top in baseball. However, in his twenties, Williamson becomes a drunk and loses all hope of living as a major league baseball player.

    Williamson starts living off of family and friends. He is unjustly arrested for the murder of a local girl and most townspeople believe that Ron did it. His family sticks by him, but it was very difficult for them.

    Time happens and Ron remains in jail, on death row - for a crime that he did not commit. Ron develops a mental illness.

    If you have never heard of this case, then I suggest that everyone reads this novel. I was shocked to find out that this really happened and had never heard of this before. I will not ruin the ending to the book, which is obvious if you pick up the book and read it. However, the life long struggle of Ron is worth reading about and it makes you think twice how your actions can lead you in the wrong direction in life. I pray that the Williamson family has found closure on the matter and that they have found peace. Sad, sad story. Pure injustice!

    ...more info
  • Abuse of the Judicial System
    John Grisham doesn't usually write non-fiction. But he felt that this story was compelling enough to do some serious research and writing. The result is a very solid, horrifying read.

    I have always been against the death penalty on efficiency grounds, but this book really tipped the balance. I knew that mistakes were made in death penalty cases, but little did I realize that the mistakes would be the result of small-town avarice and a bloodthirsty desire to see someone - anyone - pay for despicable crimes. I shudder to think of all the folks behind bars because they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The story itself follows Ron Washington, a promising baseball star who fizzles in the minor leagues. The rest of his life goes downhill from there, and his aimless lifestyle makes him a top suspect for clueless police. Ron's (and his alleged accomplice's) journey through the justice system is an eye-opening experience. If Grisham had put this story line in his fiction books, it would have been too ridiculous to believe. But since court proceedings are pretty well documented, it looks to be true.

    The story is well written and has some very colorful characters. My only fault with the book is that it did drag in parts, but overall it was a very engaging read. Highly recommended for all who enjoy a shocking true life drama. ...more info
  • Highly Recomended
    Another great book by Grisham. Even though he's writing non fiction this time around he still manages to write in the same style Grisham fans enjoy. I've always enjoyed the way he describes a setting: small town feel, laid back people, slow moving days.
    One small complaint, the book includes photos very early on. If you don't know any details of the main character and hearing this story for the firs time without knowing how it ends, avoid looking at those pics. They kinda tell the story at a high level. I went into the story not knowing a thing about the guy or how it ends for him. After reading the captions below the pics about 1/4 through the book I did know how it goes ...more info
  • Too much information

    I enjoyed the first half of the book. I found it interesting that it was a true story unlike the rest of his books. I also used to be a counselor so I thought the mental illness aspect was interesting. His writing style (similar to a reporter) was also different but I enjoyed the change. What I didn't like was there was way too many details and information. I ended up skimming through the last half of the book. ...more info
  • Book Review: The Innocent Man by John Grisham
    The Innocent Man 428pgs. (Author's Note: 429-435)
    by John Grisham
    Review by SpeekNDaTruuf

    Before 1982, very few had heard of Ada, Oklahoma. It was a small familial town; there were no strangers because everyone knew everyone else. On December 8, 1982, however, that all changed. Debra Sue Carter, a bartender at the local nightclub, The Coachlight, was raped and brutally murdered in her apartment. Scrawled on the wall in red fingernail polish were the words: Jim Smith next will die. On a small table in the kitchen were the words, written in ketchup: Don't look fore us or ealse. On Debra's back, smeared in dried ketchup: Duke Gram. Inside Debra's mouth was a green washcloth. Two men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, would sit in prison for 11 years, wrongly convicted of murdering Debra Sue Carter in 1988, until exoneration on April 15, 1999. This is the story of The Innocent Man, brilliantly authored by John Grisham.

    As with most Grisham novels (i.e. The Client, A Painted House, The Pelican Brief, etc.), I originally thought this was a fictictious account of two men wrongly accused and convicted of murder. I grabbed a bottle of water and my fresh pack of Newports, and sat down to enjoy a fictictious novel. Yet, within the first few pages, something was bothering me. I know good authors when I read one, and I know that Grisham is an astounding author. The praise he receives is a testament to that very fact.

    Yet, The Innocent Man seemed... too good. It was a bit too real for me, and oddly enough, I noticed a difference in writing. It seemed as if someone was narrating a story as opposed to a first person account that I'd noticed before from Grisham. The writing was... stilted, but not in the sense that it was a hard read. It was just different. It reminded me of those docu-dramas on A&E. I could easily hear Bill Kurtis from American Justice speaking these words. I thought to my Self, Wow, this man's imagination is amazing! So, I kept reading, amazed at Grisham's talent to concoct such a story. But, it kept nagging me and nagging me, and eventually, I decided to do some research on my own.

    I found out that The Innocent Man was, in fact, based on a true story! Two real, living and breathing men were wrongly convicted for a murder that they did NOT commit! Suffice it to say, I finished this book in approximately 3 days. It was that good! Sad, but very well-written. Now, I could tell you all about Mr. Williamson and his mental issues, and I could tell you about the separation between Mr. Fritz and his daughter, Elizabeth, but I'm sure I wouldn't do this any justice. I would strongly suggest you read this book for your Selves.

    Out of all of the novels that I've read by John Grisham, The Innocent Man, by far, is my favorite. Though it is a long and sad account of a failed justice system, and though I was often frustrated because of that, it's still a great read. FIVE STARS....more info
  • 'One' of the most `known' incompetence and dishonesty prosecution in history.
    Making insignificant bad choices during young age can sometimes lead to extreme hardship in the future. I have friends who are behind bars for crimes they never committed, or simply because they were at the wrong place in the wrong time. After all, the sloppiness of the justice system makes it even harder for such mistakes to be avoided.

    John Grisham's book `The Innocent Man; Murder and Injustice in a Small Town' talks about a true story murder and rape of Debra Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma, which lead to one of the wrongful convictions throughout the United States, the conviction of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz; creating `one' of the most `known' incompetence and dishonesty prosecution in history.

    If you haven't yet read this book, then take this chance because the movie-making process is in the oven, ticking for some-weekend in 2009....more info
  • Grisham's first non-fiction impressive
    An aberration from his usual style of legal suspense thrillers, Grisham does some fieldwork in this stirring true story about a man (Ron Williamson) who struggles mightily in life after the good old days of high school stardom. Ron was a high school baseball prodigy and everyone in Oklahoma knew his name. He was drafted by the Oakland A's and success seemed destine for Ron, however the pressures to make it in the big leagues take their tole on his psyche and slowly he becomes a shell of a man in need of institutional care after continuous failures to move up in the world. Forced to take some personal initiative to receive care, Ron never has a chance. I found myself in disbelief at the way the law enforcement operated and the truth about their sick intentions for the fate of Ron and others in the story. Of course Ron is convicted and sent to death row. Grisham, with his simplistic writing style allows the true events from Ada, Oklahoma's turbulent past pave the way for one of the most shocking true-stories ever told in U.S. history. ...more info
  • Great book; infuriating true story
    I can't say that I enjoyed reading this book. It's a good book; it's an important book to read. It's shocking and infuriating to know that this is a true story.

    I think that anyone who works in law enforcement or will ever serve on a jury should read this book. People should know these men's story....more info
  • The Innocent Man by John Grisham
    I bought this book for my mother as she is a die-hard John Grisham fan. She struggled through the beginning of the book because he used a whole different writing pattern then his previous books. But as she reached the "meat" of the book, 'her John Grisham began weaving his magic through writing.' She cried reading the book, because it was real, it was everyday circumstances and it was a society she connected with. So, WE really encourage this book for anyone who wants to get back in touch with the real world of reality which includes family, commitment, religion and love....more info
  • Guilty Until Proven Innocent--Enlightening
    This is a very disturbing nonfiction book about our judicial system, a heinous crime and a wasted life. It showed how several innocent men were convicted of murder and that in reality, one is really guilty until proven innocent rather than the other way around. It is a very sad documentary about a talented high school athlete who really ruined his life with drinking, drugs and got framed for murder, and developed mental and physical illness. It's unbelievable how these innocent men spent 12 years in prison while the appeals courts kept upholding the verdict in spite of all the bungling and lack of evidence in the first trial. The main thing I learned from it is if you ever get brought in for questioning by the police, don't answer any questions without an attorney present, even if you are innocent and have nothing to hide! The fact that this really happened makes horrific. I recommend this to anyone interested in legal thrillers, the justice system, or prison life.
    ...more info
  • More chilling than fiction because it's true
    I've admired Grisham from the beginning, but this first non'fiction book of his raises his stature even higher in my estimation because he uses his talents to portray a gross miscarriage of justice. The fact that such an event can happen to an ordinary citizen is certainly chilling enough. But the aftermath is even more chilling as we see the attitude of the authorities after the innocence of two men was basically proven. Also chilling is how the citizens of the town reacted to the acquitta. This is a brutal look at law enforcement and the judicial process and certainly deserves being widely read. ...more info
  • In the middle - and it is a GREAT BOOK!!
    I am right in the middle of this book, whether it is fiction or non, this is one great book. I suppose the saddest thing of all is that the story is entirely true. I have been on the wrong side of justice - not a death penalty case - but rather a woman with little funds in a divorce case - it was nasty. I know that there are many lawyers that truly intend to do right by the people they represent - but for every un-corrupt attorney there are another thousand corrupt ones. The worse part of the whole situation is that many of them become politicians. HOLY MOLY!!!!...more info
  • The Innocent Man
    The item for which I asked for was shipped in great condition and in a timely fashion. I recommend this seller to anyone out there....more info
  • Too Far Fetched for Fiction?
    My first "true crime" book. And wow. I am really shocked that something like this can happen...that people this obviously innocent can be committed and even placed on death row. I suppose I'm a bit naive to the system but I'd like to believe that justice is better served.

    If this was a fiction book, I'd have never believed this story.

    I think I'll definitely try some more true crime books. This wasn't the most supremely written book I've ever seen, but it was good. It read well though the names got a bit confusing as there were a lot given without much "characterization" except for the main characters. I think it was an interesting subject, but it could have been presented a bit more clearly.
    ...more info
  • The Innocent Man
    Great story but was expecting something different from John Grisham so a disapointment in that sense. Sounded like an Ann Rule book. I know authors like to stretch themselves and try different things, but when I pick up a book from an author, I go for the known style. I have many Grisham books but I won't be keeping this one.

    ...more info
  • Well researched documentation - remarkably written!
    This real-life story is very emotional, rousing and compelling and in my opinion also very exciting. Even if you know the outcome already and the writing style isn't out for suspense. The nonfictional narration is constructed as a history of a criminal case and less intended as a thriller. In the English edition in midsection there are photographs of some participants which help a lot to put oneself in there place and empathize with them. It is a book that gives a deep insight in the touching life of a wrongly convicted person, who is hit hard by destiny several times - the burst dream of a baseball career, alcoholism, drugs, women, schizophrenia and eventually the condemnation for death penalty. It is a distressing factual report of a human tragedy, put together from many conclusive pieces of a puzzle. To my mind no page is too long and no excessive information is given. Anyway I can recommend this book warmly to every empathic, humanely and politically interested reader....more info
  • Good story
    Non fiction book about Ron Williamson, who was wrongly convicted of murdering a young woman in the 80s. The book also includes the stories of Dennis Fritz, implicated in the same murder, and a couple other people who faced similar charges while being innocent. Ron narrowly escaped the death penalty. This is a gripping story for anyone interested in the death penalty etc. Ron is an unlikely hero with severe psychological, drinking and drug issues. However his story and what happened to him is so unbelievable that you have to read it to believe it. This book really makes you think about the justice system and how people with a certain degree of authority and a personal agenda can destroy the lives of so many for no valid reason.
    ...more info
  • Not a Grisham fan . . .
    I am not a fan of Mr. Grisham's fiction, but he writes about real life quite well. I'd like to see him write more non-fiction. ...more info
  • The worst of times
    An excellent book; an important book. The tone of the prose puzzled me for a while, but I realized eventually that there is a kind of dark allegory in the style that helps keep several themes going at once. The most obvious of these is the intertwined stories of the several characters, but the depth is created by interweaving the issues of Law, Capital Punishment, Due Process, Mental Health, to name just a few. The myriad minor characters provide a sort of cell structure to continuously regenerat the narrative. Grisham also has a plain respect for the basic story, and never intrudes, except for the rare expression of disbelief. A must read--read it!...more info
  • Another true crime high!

    I'm not a big Grisham fan but I loved reading this book by him because the story is true. Reading true crime stories is a real high for me because it never ceases to amaze me how some real murders are so much more gruesome and unbelievable than fictional ones. I give this book 5 stars and if you're like me a real true crime junkie I suggest you take a look at Death Penalty USA: 2003 - 2004, my favorite, because it's essentially a collection of short true crime stories so basically you don't have to read the whole book to enjoy the high! ...more info
  • disappointed Grisham fan
    I hope that this is the last non-fiction book that John Grisham writes. I have not read a book of his that I didn't like until this one.

    It reads like a bad episode of Dateline NBC. It's hard to keep up with all of the people involved. AND I don't know if I can emphasize this point enough, IT IS EXTREMELY DEPRESSING. Stories like this about fictional characters can be enjoyable at times b/c they are seperated from reality, but when it happens to real people it just makes you sick.

    Brief synopsis:
    A woman is murdered.
    A man's life begins to fall apart.
    A man's life continues to fall apart.
    Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it does.

    There's no nice neat bow on the end of this one. There are no answers. There is no final resolution.

    Pass....more info
  • Stick to Fiction
    After the number of novels Grisham has written, many people (like me) will buy this book based purely on the author. Grisham has traded on his name to promote a non-fiction long drawn out encyclopedia type series of facts about a truly sorry tale.

    If you are buying this based on Grisham's past work expecting a fast paced intriguing's not even close....more info
  • Grisham is mad as hell and not going to take it any more!
    I had long ago stopped reading John Grisham's novels. I think it was "The Pelican Brief" that ended it for me. I always though his first, "A Time to Kill" was my favorite. And in some strange way this new non-fiction book seems to be a worthy companion to that novel. But here Grisham is mad as hell and not going to take it any more. He asks how we can have a system of justice where those who are sworn to uphold justice do so much to undermine the process. Leading as it does in this case to so many innocents on death row. With a power of his convictions Grisham tells of the case of Ron Williamson who is falsely convicted of rape and murder. (Did not Alfred Hitchcock love these kinds of plots?) Along the way Grisham undermines the "common sense" belief in confessions, eye witness testimony, and failure of police investigations and the power of the government over those who can not afford to hire the best defense. This is a riveting and powerful read. I can only say many thanks to him for bring these events together in a simple, compelling narrative that only a novelist can many time provide. As a best selling author I am sure a wider audience learned about this injustice and the further revelations of the deep problems in our criminal justice system. ...more info
  • Amazing
    Being a Criminal Justice Student I have really enjoyed reading this book. One of the best non-fiction in its Genre that I have read. Amazing story.
    I look forward to reading Journey Toward Justice and The Dreams of Ada. ...more info
  • NOT one of his best books...
    Long, Drawn Out, Repetitive, Irritating & BORING...more about statistics of the real crime than his writing...NOT one of his best fact, in my personal opinion, it was a FLOP!...more info
  • Amazing read!
    I could not put this book down, it was an amazing read. I'm not usually a John Grishsm fan but this one kept me on the edge of my seat all the way until the end....more info
  • Appalling "story"
    This is a true but horrific story that unfolds in Oklahoma. The book mainly depicts five wrongful convictions for murder. Of those five cases, there is one in particular that gets highlighted: Ron K. Williamson's. Ron is a former athlete bedeviled by mental illness that gets railroaded in a murder case in a small town courtroom in rural Oklahoma.

    There were irregularities all the way from the police investigation to the prosecution and, even later, during the incarceration period. Ron Williamson's ordeal as a Death Row inmate elicits the sympathy and compassion of the readers towards him. John Grisham, the author, is an accomplished writer that keeps the reader spellbound throughout the book....more info
  • Justice prevails....finally
    The only thing I didn't like about this book was the fact that it was a true story and therefore an innocent man was nearly put to death for a crime he did not commit. The lack of evidence was appalling. Right from the beginning it was clear that Glen Gore was the guy they should have been looking at.

    What irked me was the arrogance of Bill Peterson and the fact that even after DNA proved Williamson and Fritz's innocence he refused to acknowledge that they played no part in the murder.

    I have no sympathy for Glen Gore, simply because he knowingly assisted in putting an innocent man in jail for a crime he himself committed.

    I highly recommend this informative and well researched book.
    ...more info
  • An American Tragedy
    The Innocent Man by John Grisham is his first true crime novel, about a miscarriage of justice in Ada, Oklahoma, wherein several innocent men who were sent to death row. They spent eleven years on death row until freed by DNA evidence. With the number of people being freed in recent years due to DNA evidence, it becomes clear that all too often, people are convicted and sentenced to death more because they have lost the game than because they are actually guilty. The police are under pressure to make a quick arrest, the DA is under pressure to get a conviction, the judge is under pressure to be hard on crime- and so on.

    In Grisham's book, Ron Williamson is a mentally disturbed pro-baseball wash-out who becomes a subject of interest after the actual killer suggests to police that the victim was scared of Ron and asked him for protection. Dennis Fritz, a middle school science teacher, attracts the attention of the police simply by virtue of being Ron's friend. Despite the lack of eyewitnesses or physical evidence, the two men are convicted.

    The book also details the cases of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, two other young men from Ada who were convicted of murder despite a lack of evidence. Unfortunately for these two young men, there is no DNA evidence available in their case to help exonerate them.

    No matter what one's stance on crime and capital punishment, I don't think anyone can read this book and not be dismayed at the gross negligence exhibited by the police and prosecutors or at the how close Williamson and Fritz came to execution by the system that was supposed to provide justice for them and for the victim. With John Grisham's stature and following, it is to be hoped that by his interest in this case adn others, more people's attention will be focused on the Criminal INjustice System in our country....more info
  • Excellent
    This was a great book. Grisham becomes investigative journalist on a case that cleary highlights many flaws in our legal system. Read this book if you want to be entertained, challenged, and scared if you get wrongfully accused of something and do not have the money for a great lawyer.

    The main character in this book was just set up to take the fall for a crime he did not commit. He did not have the money, or anything else on his side to help him stay out of jail. The story does get better but in the end, it still is a sad outcome. Good work on this book - you will want to read through it quickly.

    JVD...more info
  • Innocent Man A Must Read
    This was yet another great Grisham novel. I love the non-fiction writing and could not stop turning pages. The Innocent Man reads like a legal thriller you would expect from Grisham, but the reality of it makes it all the more interesting to read. Definately recommend this book....more info
  • A good read.
    Really interesting book. Scary too, because it's a true story. It could happen to any of us....more info
  • OK, but I think that I got my fill of Grisham already
    This is book can be easily read and may be good for an airline ride or for a long wait somewhere, but will not stand the test of time and won't hold up what I call the "smell test". It is at least average but Grisham could do better. But you could do worse and if you are a Grisham fan, this is about average, not his best and not his worst....more info
  • The scapegoats
    It's becoming a well known fact in the US - there are two different justice systems, one for those who can afford the best defense, the other for those who cannot. The indigent can be, and often are, treated to a paltry parody of trial and sentencing. Nowhere have I encountered a better example of this than in John Grisham's account of the railroading of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in the Oklahoma murder case of Debra Carter. Grisham recounts the outrageous details of the case, in which every standard of evidence, from the sloppy work of the local police to the misconduct of attorneys and judges, was blatantly mocked. The trials were both travesties of perjury and corruption, based upon the testimony of snitches and legal system cronies.

    Whether or not Ron Williamson was a nice person or a sane one, whether or not he had the potential for violence, he and Dennis Fritz did not commit this murder. The authorities destroyed the lives of two men and their families, while failing to prosecute the true culprit, who was always prominent in the picture, and indeed provided false testimony. Readers can usually ignore "must read" recommendations, but with respect to The Innocent Man, it is "a book that no American can afford to miss." The system of justice upon which our country is based is in danger....more info
  • Gripping True Tale
    This gripping book examines injustice following the rape/murder of Debra Sue Carter of Ada, Oklahoma in December, 1982. With her outraged community demanding justice, police botched the investigation, overlooked prime suspect Glen Gore, and employed dubious techniques that led to the arrest of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. Williamson was an unstable belligerent drunk with prior arrests for sexual assault, but Fritz was guilty only of being his friend. As the author shows, both were railroaded and convicted in trials based on scant, dubious evidence and so replete with procedural errors (not to mention incompetent defense) that they should have ended in a mistrial (Willamson) and outright dismissal (Fritz). Then we read of their incaceration, appeals, help from Project Innocent, plus Williamson's increased mental illness and near execution. Finally, the author shows how both were exonnerated by new DNA testing which essentially proved Glen Gore's guilt.

    I usually disdain criminals, but my contempt shifted here to the incompetent (or dishonest) investigators, clueless judges, and most of all, prosecutor Bill Peterson. The latter continued believing Williamson and Fritz guilty (and Gore innocent) after the DNA tests - Peterson now has a web site to revive his image given this book's indictment of his arrogant stupidity and inability to admit he was wrong.

    I'd have liked more information on grand juries, whether or not the cops, judges, and Peterson faced reprimands or even apologized, and whether those convicted in the nearby Denice Hathaway murder were similarly railroaded. Still, author John Grisham has written a gripping narrative that easily matches his best fictional thrillers.
    ...more info
  • Grishams best book
    I've read this book twice now, and I'm still enamored with it. I found the characters interesting, and sad. The story was well told, and was an eye opener. What really gets me is that this book was a true story, and I feel horrible for the miscarriage of justice that two men, and their families, had to go through.

    An excellent read....more info
  • Grisham at his worst
    Truman Capote he ain't. This was tortuous to get through. Grisham should really stick with what he does best (and sometimes not all that well) and that is to write fiction.

    This was a repetitive yawner. Truly a zero star work ! ...more info
  • not his best, but ok
    i am a HUGE fan of grishams stories but this one kinda let me down. i'm going to tell myself that its because he told a true story, but it just laacked the excitement of his other books. the usual page-turning tendencies that i get when i have one of his books was not there...i had to push myself to finish it. if you really want to read one of his greats try the partner- ive read it like 6 times and everytime i finish in a couple days- totally cant put it down!!! i mean, reading at stop lights, taking breaks from work to read a few pages GREAT! i also like the pelican brief, the chambers, the brethren, the king of torts, and the street lawyer. they're all awesome!...more info


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