Sunday, October 17, 2010

Recent Reading: 'The Innocent Man,' John Grisham's True Tale of Oklahoma Injustice

The AT gang loves a good read—fiction, non-fiction, history, biography, current events, even poetry (it's true).

It took a while to get to John Grisham's The Innocent Man, but it's an eye-opening read, a true Oklahoma story that raises profound questions about small-town law enforcement and criminal justice.

The innocent man is Ron Williamson, an athletic Ada boy who dreamed of big-league baseball. Williamson's dream didn't work out, but he soon developed a reputation around Ada (and Tulsa) as a odd sort, the type who might do harm to someone.

When a young Ada waitress was murdered in 1982, officials quickly settled on Williamson as the suspect, eventually taking him to trial. Williamson was convicted and found himself on death row in McAlester.

But Williamson was the wrong man, his conviction based on false testimony from jailhouse snitches, a bogus "dream" confession and many other errors.

Needless to say, Ada law enforcement takes a beating here, as does the OSBI. Only heroic efforts by Williamson's appellate attorneys and a courageous federal judge save Williamson from the death penalty.

Grisham's account of this miscarriage of justice is a compelling read and a cautionary legal tale. Oklahoma readers, in particular, will find Williamson's sad story instructive, if not exactly gratifying.

For that reason, An Innocent Man is an important Oklahoma book, one that should not be forgotten.

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