During the last two decades, more than 2,000 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.
"Ghost of the Innocent Man is deeply researched and, more importantly, deeply felt. For both reasons and many more, it is a profound meditation on the human condition and a vital contribution to the literature. The endurance and fortitude of Willie Grimes surpass those of any athlete or explorer. The passages in which Christine Mumma assembles lawmen and legislatures of all different creeds to help resolve an urgent national crisis should make us all consider these current times as not just toxic and tragic but filled with the possibility of hope and redemption. In the end, Benjamin Rachlin takes us through the justice system in all its immutability and shows us the light we can wield should we so choose." (Jeff Hobbs, author of the New York Times best seller The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace)
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- Nancy Riplinger
Could have been half as long.
- B Rose