The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Aside

I started watching the Netflix true-crime series, but decided to switch to John Grisham’s book to better absorb these events. The author says in the series that you could not write this story as fiction because no one would believe it.

John Grisham's The Innocent Man
John Grisham’s shocking true-crime account

It’s a really shocking tale of a vicious miscarriage of justice. It involves a rotten police investigation, lamentable courtroom failures and a prosecutor apparently hellbent on enacting his own prejudices.

The town you probably want to avoid in Oklahoma where these events occurred was Ada. The case was the murder of waitress Debra Carter in 1982. Former hometown baseball hero Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz are the two innocents railroaded to jail. Williamson ended up on death row while Fritz got life.

Grisham can’t maintain authorial dispassion while relaying this events, his prose occasionally dripping with sarcasm at the callousness and malignancy of the authorities.

As Fritz states in these pages, ‘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’re innocent.’

A powerful book full of villains and wonderful ordinary people fighting for justice. Sadly, Williamson and Fritz lost more than they could ever get back – and the true killer roamed free for years.

The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh

Joseph Wambaugh, former LA cop, has had an interesting writing career, spanning fiction and non-fiction. I’ve read several of his books and just finished this true-crime title from 1973.

It recounts events from 1963 when two LAPD officers stopped a pair of small-time but dangerous characters. Greg Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith pulled a gun and took the policemen, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, hostage.The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh

The officers were ordered to drive to an onion field near Bakersfield. Campbell was executed but Hettinger managed to escape. My initial feeling when I started reading was not good. The book is written in the style of Truman Capote’s a ‘non-fiction novel’ In Cold Blood. This style and Capote’s reliability as narrator have since been questioned.

So, in The Onion Field we get the participants’ thoughts and dialogue from throughout their lives, which clearly no author can know. My reaction was that this must be a novel, but the spine said non-fiction.

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