The Innocent Man is non-fiction examining several particularly unjust criminal convictions in the Oklahoma justice system. But as non-fiction, you will not believe how innocent people can be railroaded onto death row on almost no evidence whatsoever, coerced confessions and unscrupulous prosecutors who want someone's head on a stick without truly looking for the killer. The main target in the book is Ron Williamson, who has a humble beginning as the son of a door to door salesman, then to a career as a professional baseball player, drafted by the Oakland A's.
But like many promising baseball players, he bounced around the minor leagues for years before retiring in his mid-20's. . After his short sports career that took him no higher than the minor leagues, Williamson returned home to Oklahoma. He developed a mental illness and a drinking problem and when a young woman in his neighborhood was stabbed to death, poor Ron was the obvious suspect since no one liked him anyway.
You might think this all happened in less enlightened times, but it took place in the 1980's. Ron and Dennis Fritz spent years in jail as they exhausted their appeals and finally convinced a federal judge that the conviction was an outrage, based on almost no evidence and the fact that Ron was mentally-ill. The judge overturned the conviction on a Habeas Corpus petition by Ron's lawyers only a few days before his execution. For years, Ron was screaming in his jail cell that he was innocent.
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The Innocence Project, a New York City organization that works to free the wrongly-convicted, took his case and won his freedom. What happened to Ron Williamson could happen to anyone. The guy he was convicted with was probably sent to jail because he was merely friends with Ron. You could be arrested tomorrow for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A jury of your "peers" could convict you on with no evidence simply because the prosecutor told them you committed the crime.
We learn that innocent men are sometimes sent to Death Row. We learn that this innocent man barely escaped execution. There may be many people who still believe that all lawmen are honest, government officials never make mistakes, and innocent men are never put to death. But, I think it is easy to say that there are bad apples in every crowd and yes, even bad people in some of the most respectable positions in the world.
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