Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book Review: Innocent Man

My reading has slowed down considerably the last few months since I completed the residency program at NW and really got into full-speed ministry at Pflugerville and with the church plant. I've been reading a Civil War history (about 800 pages of small print) that won the Pulitzer in History & is really fascinating. I should be done with that book in the next few weeks & I'll post a full report on it. I've always loved history, and it's been a while since I read about the Civil War period. The result of my reading has been a renewed interest in Civil War stuff - I know that Barie is really excited by some of the Civil War movies that I put in our Netflix Queue.

All that said, I decided to take a break from the Civil War tome and read something fun that I could get through in a couple days. And so I picked up Grisham's new book with a Christmas gift card. I've read all of Grisham's fiction work & been a fan since Time to Kill, even though his other work has never really matched the intensity of his first. My other favorite read from Grisham was The Testament, but that was because of the fascinating religious themes that Grisham wove into that novel. I heard Grisham speak at Baylor many years ago when I was a student there - he had just published his novel called The Chamber, one of his slower novels but one in which he raised a powerful question - should the state be killing people? During his lecture at Baylor, he shared some personal convictions about the injustice of the death penalty, & so it was no surprise to me to see his first nonfiction work this year be centered on the real life injustice that men on death row had suffered.

This book centers on story of Ron Williamson & Dennis Fritz, though Ron is really the main character of the narrative. Both were wrongly convicted of capital murder in 1988 for a murder committed in 1982 that neither had anything to do with. Ron was sentenced to die & Dennis was sentenced to life in prison. The story is really fascinating because of Ron's personal story & mental health issues. Both men were in prison for 12 years before their convictions were overturned by DNA tests (which was really a new science in the late 90's). Ron was only days away from being executed when a federal judge (& his team of researchers) stayed the execution based on their research into a brief by one of Ron's lawyers.

This book is not so much for entertainment purposes, but to challenge us in what we think about our criminal justice system here in America. Though it may work 95% of the time & put the right people behind bars, the consequences for the 5% wrongly convicted are devastating. I encourage all of you to read this short book & wrestle with the implications of this story on our use of the death penalty.

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