A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Remarkable . . . Captivating . . . Rachlin is a skilled storyteller." -- New York Times Book Review
"Intriguing . Read more...
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Remarkable . . . Captivating . . . Rachlin is a skilled storyteller." --New York Times Book Review
"Intriguing . . . A gripping legal-thriller mystery . . . This is a story that profoundly elevates good-cause advocacy to greater heights--to where innocent lives are saved." --USA Today
"A crisply written page turner." --NPR
A gripping account of one man's long road to freedom that will forever change how we understand our criminal justice system During the last three decades, more than two thousand American citizens have been wrongfully convicted. Ghost of the Innocent Man brings us one of the most dramatic of those cases and provides the clearest picture yet of the national scourge of wrongful conviction and of the opportunity for meaningful reform.
When the final gavel clapped in a rural southern courtroom in the summer of 1988, Willie J. Grimes, a gentle spirit with no record of violence, was shocked and devastated to be convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life imprisonment. Here is the story of this everyman and his extraordinary quarter-century-long journey to freedom, told in breathtaking and sympathetic detail, from the botched evidence and suspect testimony that led to his incarceration to the tireless efforts to prove his innocence and the identity of the true perpetrator. These were spearheaded by his relentless champion, Christine Mumma, a cofounder of North Carolina's Innocence Inquiry Commission. That commission--unprecedented at its inception in 2006--remains a model organization unlike any other in the country, and one now responsible for a growing number of exonerations.
With meticulous, prismatic research and pulse-quickening prose, Benjamin Rachlin presents one man's tragedy and triumph. The jarring and unsettling truth is that the story of Willie J. Grimes, for all its outrage, dignity, and grace, is not a unique travesty. But through the harrowing and suspenseful account of one life, told from the inside, we experience the full horror of wrongful conviction on a national scale. Ghost of the Innocent Man is both rare and essential, a masterwork of empathy. The book offers a profound reckoning not only with the shortcomings of our criminal justice system but also with its possibilities for redemption.
- ISBN-13: 9780316311496
- ISBN-10: 0316311499
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: August 2017
- Page Count: 400
- Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
A legal odyssey
Ready yourself for emotional whiplash as Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption, Benjamin Rachlin’s account of a man wrongly convicted of rape, seesaws from scenes of judicial haste, incompetence and indifference to episodes of sublime compassion and legal professionalism. In 1987 near Hickory, North Carolina, a 69-year-old, white widow answered a knock at her door. A black man she didn’t recognize rushed in and raped her twice before leisurely helping himself to some fruit from her kitchen and walking away. Through police negligence and mishandling of evidence, 41-year-old Willie Grimes was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life plus nine years. Although the victim identified Grimes as her attacker, her identification was contradictory, and there were no physical markers linking him to the crime.
But just when the reader is prepared to write off North Carolina as a legal snake pit, Rachlin shifts his narrative to a group of lawyers, law professors, judges and prosecutors who, on their own time, form a committee aimed at making trials fairer and freeing the innocent. They are led by Christine Mumma, who put herself through law school and has the instincts and resourcefulness of a street fighter. Together they create the Innocence Inquiry Commission, which is eventually recognized and funded by the state.
Grimes remained in various state prisons for 24 years, refusing to confess to the crime even though doing so would have led to his early release. Rachlin recounts in heartbreaking detail the physical and psychological agonies Grimes suffered before finding a measure of relief in becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Finally, with Mumma acting as his attorney, Grimes was exonerated of all charges. Rachlin fits the North Carolina reforms into the national thrust to free the wrongly convicted, especially with the advent of DNA testing.