I find stories of wrongful convictions fascinating, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read this one.
A gripping account of one man’s long road to justice, the relentless attorney who crusaded for his freedom, and the scourge of wrongful conviction in our criminal justice system.
After a 1987 rape in Hickory, North Carolina, a mistaken identification by the victim combined with botched evidence and suspect testimony led to the conviction and decades-long incarceration of Willie Grimes. Grimes, who was working two jobs to make ends meet at the time of his arrest, had no history of violent crime. He was a gentle spirit beloved by friends and family. For the next quarter century he and they devoted their lives to securing his freedom and providing justice for a crime he did not commit. Using this case as a lens into the criminal justice system at large, GHOST OF THE INNOCENT MAN unearths the shocking realities of wrongful conviction, and reveals the people and organizations fighting for social justice on behalf of those without a voice.
One of those people, Christine Mumma, was Grimes’s crusader. Mumma never stopped believing in his innocence, and it was she who was responsible for spearheading the founding of North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission, the only organization in the country with the power to declare a person not merely not guilty, but legally innocent. Grimes’s exoneration is one of ten that the Innocence Inquiry Commission has secured since its inception. With meticulous research and pulse-quickening prose, GHOST OF THE INNOCENT MAN presents the tragedy and triumph of one man’s long road to justice. More than that, it is a call to action through this account of one life spent away, but not gone to waste.
The case of Willie Grimes is shocking, how he was ever convicted in the first place is beyond me! This book opens with the horrendous crime and quickly after follows the arrest of Grimes – I was gripped from the very first page! The treatment of Grimes in his arrest was appalling, the trial itself, and the evidence presented (and not presented) was shocking, to the point where it’s hard to believe this is a true story. With no legal training, you can see from a mile off, this was a miscarriage of justice – you have to read it to believe it, it was simply shocking and appalling.
Incorporated throughout this book are brief looks at other people who were wrongfully convicted and wow, they are just as, if not more, shocking. So shocking it’s scary – it seems you don’t even have to be in the area the crime was committed to be convicted of it, and the next thing you know, you’re serving a life sentence! We can try to seek comfort in the belief that wrongful convictions are rare, but they’re not as rare as you think.
Grimes would likely still be in prison if it were not for Chris Mumma’s determination for justice that led to the creation of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. At times, the parts of the book dedicated to the creation of this commission and the work Mumma and her colleagues did could be a bit long winded. And if you’re not familiar with how thing work in the US, eg. Senate and legal jargon, these bits may make slow reading. I fully understand the importance of the work being carried out but the information on forming the organisation was a bit heavy at times.
There’s no denying Willie Grimes and his quest for freedom is the heart and soul of this book. As you read it, you grow to admire Willie, throughout it all, he held no ill will towards anyone, he just wanted to go home to his family. Reading about his experience in prison was a shock to my system, how can inmates be shipped from prison to prison to prison, many times, placed too far from their friends and family to have them visit.
I always maintain that true crime stories are more chilling than any fiction, and Ghost of the Innocent Man is proof of that. These miscarriages of justice are a chill you can’t shake off – as I read more of these books, I see a trend, these crimes happened so long ago but it’s only recently, within the last 10 years, that these wrongs are being righted. But you can’t give a man back 25 years of his life!
If you are interested in books about wrongful convictions and the workings [and failings] of the criminal justice system, I recommend you read this book.