Takeback Tuesday: the innocent
Most of us, deep down, trust the system. Intellectually, we may be aware that mistakes happen, that innocents get screwed, but when it comes right down to it? Yeah, most of us have faith that the truth will out.
A while ago my friend Les Klinger asked me to join a project he and Laura Caldwell (fellow lawyer and bestselling writer) were heading up about the Innocence Project, which helps out men and women who have been convicted, then exonerated of terrible crimes. I imagine my first response was the same as that of the other 14 bestselling authors who joined up, each one assigned one portion of one person’s story: “Um, I’d want to be really sure that these aren’t people who only got off because of a technicality…”
Nope. These are men and women who trusted the system, and paid for it with a huge part of their lives. Twenty years, twenty-eight years. These are, let me say again, people who did nothing—except trust.
The guy they matched me up with was convicted of raping a child, and spent 28 nightmarish years in prison. The portion of his experience they wanted me to do was the trial itself. (SJ Rozan, for example, wrote about the unexpected knock on the door and the arrest of a young woman law student; Sara Paretsky wrote the next slice of the experience, the interrogation—basically the torture—of a young man the police just knew had done it. Though he hadn’t.)
I said I would, if I could read the trial transcript. This took some digging, since the trial was three decades ago, but they found it, and I read it, and I was astonished at how much could be read between the stark lines of the stenographer’s print: the subtle interplay between the attorneys, the things the defense attorney completely missed, the way the prosecutor the jury with no interruption from the judge.
The absurd conclusions of the crime lab. The manipulation of witnesses.
Every story in The Anatomy of Innocence is a variation on that theme. And yet, the thing that truly astonishes me, to this day? Ray isn’t bitter. None of the people whose stories appear in the book are bitter. Twenty nine years of living in a box, and out he walks into a world of cell phones.
Today for Takeback Tuesday I’m urging you to read this book. If you’re in the Bay Area, come to the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night and listen to us talk about the book and the problems, along with another exonoree from Northern California. If you’re not local, watch for the YouTube appearance of the panel from the SFPL.
The panel consists of editors Leslie S. Klinger and Laura Caldwell, Linda Starr, director of the Northern California Innocence Project, Maurice Caldwell, exonoree, and Laurie R. King, contributor to the book. Details and RSVP here.