A few weeks ago I read John Grisham’s amazing and true account of the wrongful conviction of two men in a 1982 murder in Oklahoma. Grisham’s book The Innocent Man is so compelling, and so well told, that I didn’t go to bed until 3 or 4 the first time I opened it and pretty much read it in one sitting.
Spoilers for Grisham’s book ahead
The king of legal thrillers paints a dismal picture of the police department in Ada, Oklahoma, which systematically went after two men for the murder of a cocktail waitress who had little or no connection to the woman. Evidence was scant and focused on a “dream confession” that was elicited after hours of unrelenting questioning. One of the convicted men, a schizophrenic former minor league baseball player, spent over a decade languishing on death row while his friend, who worked as a science teacher, was in jail for life without parole. Both were freed through DNA evidence and the work of The Innocence Project under Barry Scheck and successfully sued the city and the state for an undisclosed amount, thought to be in the millions. The man who committed the crime turned out to be a local drug dealer who was supplying members of the police force. He was eventually convicted on DNA and is in jail for life without parole.
The thing is, this was the third false conviction from the Ada police department based on a coerced confession. An earlier book by journalist Robert Mayer, The Dreams of Ada, detailed the incredible wrongful convictions of three other men for two separate murder cases.
It’s not surprising that a defamation lawsuit by the county against John Grisham and two other writers of books about the gross miscarriages of justice, Robert Mayer and wrongfully convicted Dennis Fritz, were thrown out by a federal judge yesterday:
A federal judge has dismissed a libel lawsuit filed against best-selling author John Grisham and two other writers over books they wrote about the wrongful conviction of two men in a 1982 murder.
The lawsuit was filed last year by former Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson, former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigator Gary Rogers and Melvin Hett, a state criminalist. All three helped win the original convictions in the slaying of cocktail waitress Debbie Sue Carter.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants conspired to commit libel, generate publicity for themselves by placing the plaintiffs in a false light and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
But U.S. District Judge Ronald White rejected those claims in his ruling Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
The two men initially convicted in the slaying _ Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz _ were later cleared by DNA evidence and freed after 12 years in prison.
A key witness for the prosecution, Glen Gore, was later linked to the crime by DNA, found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In his ruling, the judge wrote that it was important to be able to analyze and criticize the judicial system “so that past mistakes do not become future ones.”
“The wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz must be discussed openly and with great vigor,” White wrote.
[From AP as found on Huffington Post]
I’ve read most of Grisham’s books and while some of them aren’t as well told as others – The Appeal left me scratching my head – most of them are very good reads. The Innocent Man is a real page-turner, though, and you can see how a judge would side with Grisham after seeing the facts behind that amazing true story.
John Grisham is shown winning a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards in London on 3/28/07. Credit: Stephanie Methven / WENN