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Anatomy of Injustice

If wrongful convictions and the death penalty concern you, Anatomy of Injustice – A Murder Case Gone Wrong is required reading.  Author Raymond Bonner displays gifted storytelling and keen insight into the frailties of the U.S. criminal justice system.  He uses the wrongful conviction and capital case of Edward Lee Elmore to do so. 

The setting is South Carolina.

Edward Lee Elmore – a black man with limited mental capacity – was convicted in 1982 of the murder of Dorothy Lee Edwards, a well-to-do white woman.  After three trials, Elmore’s conviction was upheld and he was sentenced to death.

In many ways Edward Elmore’s story is a classic case of wrongful conviction.  It involves the usual factors – poor defense counsel, lousy police investigation, snitch testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct.  The injustice dealt Mr. Elmore was facilitated by a climate of racial prejudice.  And the condemned man’s only hope was defense attorney Diana Holt, who wrestled with personal demons as she doggedly fought for justice in America’s courts.

Read more: Anatomy of Injustice

The Detroit – West Memphis Connection

 

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In his autobiographical book, Life After Death, Damien Echols tells a gripping tale about growing up in poverty and suffering the unbelievable nightmare of 18 years on death row.  Echols is one of the “West Memphis Three” – three teenagers who were wrongfully convicted in 1993 of the murder of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas.  As we read Echols’ account of this horrific tragedy caused by failures of the criminal justice system, we found ourselves thinking about a similar tragedy that has befallen a young boy in Detroit.Damien Echols - Life After Death

 

Documentaries have been made on the West Memphis Three’s high profile case, but you may not have heard of Davontae Sanford.  All four youth were victimized by police and prosecutors who failed to conduct a real investigation, rushed to judgment, and convicted without actual evidence. 

 

Read this book review in its entirety...The Detroit – West Memphis Connection

Proving His Innocence: Peter Pringle's "About Time"

Surviving Ireland's Death Row

Law and justice are not always one and the same. On the 27 November 1980, Peter Pringle waited in an Irish court to hear the following words: 

Peter Pringle, for the crime of capital murder the law prescribes only one penalty, and that penalty is death.
 
The problem was that Peter did not commit this crime. Facing a sentence of death by hanging, Peter sought the inner strength and determination to survive. When his sentence was changed to forty years without remission he set out to prove his innocence. 
 
Fifteen years later, he is finally a free man. This is his story.
 
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Convicting the Innocent

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Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong is one of only three or four books that provide readers with an overview of the entire wrongful conviction problem in the United States. Two are more than a decade old, and one focuses on how the problem was studied by a citizen’s commission in one state. That would seem to make Convicting the Innocent a book to read by default if you want to understand how false convictions happen. Even if there were more competition, Convicting the Innocent would stand out as a highly readable and important study. The subtitle hits the bull’s-eye. This book makes it clear just how wrongful convictions occur. It opens a window on the problem by examining 250 cases where there is virtually no doubt that entirely innocent people spent decades in prison for serious crimes they did not commit.
 
There is no doubt about the innocence of Jeff Descovik, Ronald Jones, Habib Abdal, Gary Dotson, David Gary, Earl Washington, Jr., Kennedy Brewer, Frank Lee Smith, Ronald Cotton, Darryl Hunt—and 240 additional cases that inform Garrett’s book—because they were officially exonerated when their DNA profiles absolutely did not match DNA evidence related to the crime. Other facts confirm that the exonerees were not involved. In almost half of the cases, the “other facts” included linking DNA profiles to the actual killer or rapist.

Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, has worked closely with the Innocence Project and has published law journal articles on pieces of the wrongful conviction puzzle. He has drawn on his unparalleled knowledge of these cases to provide an information-packed and often eye-opening account of what went wrong. Along the way he lists simple statistics (counts and percentages) that help one understand the proportionate size of the issue at hand. The big question he asks is: Do the relatively few wrongful convictions described in the book reflect systematic failures that run through every state and local criminal justice system?

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