The Innocent Man

February 10, 2009
As suspenseful as a Ridley Scott film and bizarre as a Tim Burton movie, The Innocent Man by John Grisham descriptively tells the true story of Ron Williamson thrown onto death row after irrationally charged with rape and murder by an inept Oklahoma justice system. Grisham narrates his first and only non-fiction novel in a straightforward, informative, and simple manner, yet incites the reader to turn the page through a captivating plot and dynamic and unique main characters. Grisham chronologically advances the plot, while constantly introducing new characters along the way with descriptive backgrounds and relations to either Williamson or the trail for the most part. However, a vast amount of characters and separate crimes discussed throughout the novel create a sense of confusion regarding the book's sense of direction and purpose. Taken as a whole, The Innocent Man is a well-written and very important book shining light upon a questionable legal system and death penalty.

Ron Williamson being a second round draft pick for the Oakland Athletics, was originally a hero of his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma, but Williamson's reputation soon nose-dived after a short, failing minor league career quickly followed by substance abuse and a declining mental health. Williamson's character bears a noticeable resemblance to both of Grisham's fictional protagonists in Playing for Pizza and Bleachers. Both main characters in the novels, Rick Dockery in Playing for Pizza and Neely Crenshaw in Bleachers, were former sports stars that quickly fell from grace from playing bad and an injury, respectively, leading to their downfall followed by their eventual salvation after a journey and help from friends and family, similar to Ron Williamson's journey. When a neighbor found Debbie Carter dead in her home police after a short and questionable investigation, despite a considerable lack of justifiable and legitimate evidence, quickly arrested and charged Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz with murder and rape.

Grisham's clearly voices his opinion through his disdainful and disgusted but reframed description of Williamson's trail. Williamson not only had a series of incompetent lawyers but also District Attorney, Bill Peterson, prosecuted Williamson with a forced dream confession, unreliable and lying inmates of Williamson's trying to earn a shorter sentence in return, a 'matching' hair sample, and a fabricated testimony from a witness. Williamson was inevitable convicted of murder and rape and sentenced to death, by a state that has the highest convict executions per capita than any other state in America and a jury of Ada locals who already had a bias and sour view of Williamson. The judge placed Williamson in an unfit jail, which only further damaged his mental health. In jail, Grisham continued to introduce more wrongfully accused characters, Greg Wilhoit was one, Grisham was giving examples of injustices, but by doing this only conjures a sense of attack and disgust against the criminal justice system, breaking the informative prose and momentum of the novel and distracting the reader from forming much needed empathy with Williamson. Although in the Williamson's and other people's judicial experiences possessed many unconstitutional methods, Grisham places these off-topic examples against the criminal justice system in inopportune moments. After twelve years, Judge Frank Seay granted Ron Williamson a new trail allowed by habeas corpus and because Williamson's previous trail was unfair. DNA evidence eventually freed and exonerated Williamson and Fritz, leading to Glen Gore, the actual murder of Debbie Carter, given life in prison.

The Innocent Man's positive attributes far outweigh the negative attributes. The novel's purpose is in question as Ron Williamson bears an uncanny resemblance to Neely Crenshaw in Grisham's earlier novel Bleachers, and Grisham fails to create enough rapport between the reader and Williamson, simply portrayed as someone the reader should feel sorry for because he is the main character and in bad situation. Nonetheless, The Innocent Man is an outstandingly entertaining non-fiction novel. Grisham's copious research shows as he illustrates, though sometimes tedious, background information on almost all characters and situations, for instance citing all of Williamson's Little League achievements on the Police Eagles and even his childhood reputation within the community. The story of Ron Williamson was also a wise choice for Grisham to write about, not only does Williamson's journey illustrate flaws in our justice system it is a captivating story with numerous plot twists and unique characters, such as Greg Wilhoit who always watched David Letterman at full volume inside his makeshift newspaper cocoon in his cell.

Overall The Innocent Man by John Grisham successfully tells the unfortunate narrative of murder and injustice in a small town. Despite subtle confusion, the novel entertains as well as illustrates to the reader, that because of the current legal system injustice can happen to anyone. The book is ultimately an amazing non-fiction book, especially when considered John Grisham's first non-fiction novel.

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