Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption

Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption

by Benjamin Rachlin


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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.

"Remarkable . . . Captivating . . . Rachlin is a skilled storyteller."-New York Times Book Review

"A gripping legal-thriller mystery . . . Profoundly elevates good-cause advocacy to greater heights — to where innocent lives are saved."-USA Today

"A crisply written page turner."-NPR

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316311496
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 08/15/2017
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,103,484
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Benjamin Rachlin grew up in New Hampshire. He studied English at Bowdoin College, where he won the Sinkinson Prize, and writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he won Schwartz and Brauer fellowships. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the New York Times Magazine, TIME, and the Virginia Quarterly Review. He lives near Boston. Ghost of the Innocent Man is his first book.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Prologue: 1987 3

1 Firm and Unequivocal 7

2 Chris 46

3 Only a Few Additional Weeks 50

4 Lake 52

5 K and O 57

6 Rosen 63

7 Some Ideas of Persecution 67

8 Newman, Coleman, and Weitzel 76

9 The Benefit of Every Reasonable Inference 87

10 A Problem for Everyone 95

11 One of Those Cases 106

12 Nobody Could Be Against This 118

13 In Favorable Times and Difficult Times 130

14 Their Different Individual Viewpoints 143

15 We Must Use Our Judgment 151

16 The Elephant in the Room 167

17 Does Not Admit to Crime 176

18 An Extraordinary Procedure 187

19 A Situation Not of His Making 195

20 We Recommend the Closing of This File 208

21 Some Concerns About His Medical Condition 222

22 Any Cases Where Evidence Had Gone Missing 230

23 In Three Dimensions 231

24 I Can Tell That This Lady Have Went Over My Case 234

25 Everybody Knows He Didn't Do It 238

26 The First Real Test 243

27 They Will Try to Get Me to Sign Papers 252

28 The Last Avenue I Can Think Of to Pursue 257

29 He Spoke About Going Through Changes 262

30 Send Him a Questionnaire 270

31 If They Had Anything, It Can't Match Nothing from Me 272

32 What She Said Happened, Happened 296

33 A Lawyer I've Never Met 304

34 A Type of Panel I've Never Seen 310

35 A Long Time Coming 325

36 Cases of Innocence Still Open 331

Acknowledgments 347

Notes 349

Sources 357

Index 377

What People are Saying About This

Richard Ford

"Ghost of the Innocent Man is nothing less than a masterpiece of investigative reporting and virtuosic writing. It is a book that brilliantly substantiates society's elemental promise to its citizenry—that we not have our freedoms wrongly taken from us. Benjamin Rachlin's book is Greek drama brought into our own times. It will change readers' lives, I think, and inspire them. It's that good."

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