Book Review: “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham

This is John Grisham’s first non-fiction novel. I used to enjoy read John Grisham’s novels, all related to the justice system – the law, trial, gangster, jury and etc. This one has almost all of the elements of his novel thrillers.

This book is a memoir of Ronald Keith William, a potential baseball superstar that fell because of his alcoholism and a string of bad luck that turned him into a murder suspect, then was wrongly convicted and sent to the death roll in Ada, Oklahoma. After spending 12 years in jail, Ron William’s case was dismissed thanks to the DNA evidence and of course the work of the behind-the-scene law clerks in appeal court that stayed his death sentence. Several other characters were introduced that was sometimes confusing but was relevant. His supposedly co-conspirator – Dennis Fritz, turned out to have a better ending. The other similar case was highlighted with a sad ending though.

The author did a good job in highlighting the fact that the people in power (prosecution attorneys and police) holds lots of power and injustice can be easily served by the alliance of the prosecutor and police. It appears the police are not to be trusted once they’re convinced that you’re guilty – resorting to using “dream” confession. The author did a great job in explaining the judicial process for the capital conviction and the mistakes of the defending attorneys. But most of all, he painted a pretty sad picture of the justice system for the poor and the mentally ill. The rich seems to be better served than the poor – the equality is non-existent. Once again, the forensic science – DNA technology, the unsung hero, helps to preserve the lives of many innocent men.

The narration was excellent in the audio book – good animation and attempt to mimic the voices. It was kind of dry in the beginning but it sets the sad backdrop to the emotional outbreaks of Ron William and the drama that unfolded. The description of the death-roll prison cells were detailed and vivid as if the readers are inside the miserable place.

Honestly, I don’t know what future Ron William would have changed had he not been wrongfully jailed for so many years. He’s not a very likeable man, but he’s like your regular jovial jock. His sports career was over when he was arrested for the murder. I believe a big part of his going mentally ill is due to the fact that his baseball career was over and he (and his family) couldn’t accept it. The unwillingness to accept the reality and put behind him may have driven him to the depth of his psychosis. Overall, it’s a sad story worsen by the mistreatment of justice system and it could happen to some of us.