Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted

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9780385493413: Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted

Extraordinarily powerful stories of ordinary people locked up for crimes they did not commit, and how they were freed against great odds.

A nightmare from a thousand B-movies: a horrible crime is committed in your neighborhood, and the police knock at your door. A witness swears you are the perpetrator; you have no alibi, and no one believes your protestations of innocence. You're convicted, sentenced to hard time in maximum security, or even death row, where you await the executioner's needle.

Tragically, this is no movie script but reality for hundreds of American citizens. Our criminal justice system is broken, and people from all walks of life have been destroyed by its failures. But science and a group of incredibly dedicated crusaders are working to repair the damage.

In the last ten years, DNA testing has uncovered stone-cold proof that sixty-five completely innocent people have been sent to prison and death row. But even in cases where there is physical evidence, the criminal justice system frees prisoners only after a torturous legal process. Incredibly, according to many trial judges, "actual innocence" is not grounds for release from prison.

At the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld have helped to free thirty-seven wrongly convicted people, and have taken up the cause of hundreds more. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Dwyer has been covering innocence cases for a decade. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer relate the harrowing stories of ten innocent men--convicted by sloppy police work, corrupt prosecutors, jailhouse snitches, mistaken eyewitnesses, and other all-too-common flaws of the trial system--and tell of the heroic efforts to free them.

Intense, startling, and utterly compelling, Actual Innocence is a passionate and fascinating journey through the looking glass of the American criminal justice system.
Tragically, this is no movie script but reality for hundreds of American citizens. Our criminal justice system is broken, and people from all walks of life have been destroyed by its failures. But science and a group of incredibly dedicated lawyers are working to repair the damage.

In the last decade of this century, DNA testing has uncovered stone-cold proof that fifty-five completely innocent people were sent to prison and death row. At the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld have managed to free forty-three wrongly convicted people and have taken up the cause of two hundred more. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Jim Dwyer covered this courthouse revolution from its very first days. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer relate the harrowing stories of ten of these individuals--convicted by sloppy police work, corrupt prosecutors, jailhouse snitches, mistaken witnesses, inept lawyers, and other all-too-common flaws in the trial system--and tell of the heroic efforts to free them.

Intense, harrowing, and compelling, Actual Innocence is a passionate argument for sanity in our courtrooms and a fascinating journey through the looking glass of the American criminal justice system. -->

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Review:

The Innocence Project is a pro bono civil rights organization that helps innocent people who have been unjustly imprisoned win their freedom through DNA testing. Run by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld (known for their roles in the O.J. Simpson murder trial), the project has thus far managed to free 43 wrongly convicted people and has taken on the cases of over 200 more. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Pulitzer-winning columnist Jim Dwyer tell the stories of 10 of the men they have helped. How did these men wind up in prison--some on death row--for rapes and murders they didn't commit? The causes range from mistaken identification by the victims to sloppy police work--and, in some cases, outright dereliction of duty or fabrication of evidence. Far too often, cops lock on to their suspect early and decide that their instincts can't possibly be wrong--an attitude that can persist even after the falsely accused has been exonerated. "If he is innocent," says one investigator of a man who spent seven years in prison, "I wish him a good life, but I will have no remorse for him. I have no remorse for anyone that I have ever arrested."

Though the writing is not always graceful, what matters in Actual Innocence is not the quality of the prose but the importance of the Innocence Project's work. Scheck and Neufeld's commitment to justice is evident in each of these stories, and the problems they force us to address--not just concerning the imprisonment of innocent people but in restoring their lives upon release--cannot be ignored.

From the Back Cover:

"Actual Innocence is a gut-wrenching, terrifying, hair-raising account of how fatally wrong things can go inside the American criminal justice system. But it's also--thank God--a chronicle of redemption, of how science and a group of dedicated individuals have exposed those wrongs."
--Jonathan Harr, Author of A Civil Action

"Actual Innocence is a powerful and illuminating look into the obscene quagmire of American criminal prosecutions. DNA has at last provided the key to the jailhouse door for a veritable host of innocent victims of this system. The book is a great service to justice."
--Arthur Miller

"Actual Innocence is a real-life legal thriller, the harrowing account of ten innocent men wrongfully convicted by a justice system that too often just doesn't work. Well written and well researched, this book is like a clarion call alerting us to how easily corruption, prejudice, laziness, and flat-out stupidity can cause tragic errors--and how difficult those errors are to correct. This may be the most important book on American criminal justice in a decade."
--William Bernhardt, author of Dark Justice

"Actual Innocence is a remarkably compelling book. Using real-life stories more horrifyingly gripping than any fiction, the authors make clear the deep flaws in our criminal justice system, and the positive difference that is being made by DNA identification methods whose use [Scheck and Neufeld] pioneered. Telling their tale clearly and without fanfare, they let the human drama speak for itself. I couldn't put Actual Innocence down; it's a book everyone should read."
--Philip Friedman, author of No Higher Law

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