Ghost of the Innocent Man
"A crisply written page turner."-NPR During the last two 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.

Ghost of the Innocent Man Details

TitleGhost of the Innocent Man
Author
ReleaseAug 15th, 2017
PublisherLittle, Brown and Company
ISBN-139780316311496
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Crime, True Crime, History, Mystery, Biography, Historical

Ghost of the Innocent Man Review

  • Julie
    January 1, 1970
    Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin is a 2017 Little, Brown and Co. Publication. "Our dangers do not lie in too little tenderness to the accused. Our procedure has been always haunted by the ghost of the Innocent man convicted. It is an unreal dream.” This is an astounding nonfiction accounting of a Willie J. Grimes’ wrongful conviction in 1988, the beginning of ‘The Innocence Project’, and the long, hard fought battle to free an innocent man of a Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin is a 2017 Little, Brown and Co. Publication. "Our dangers do not lie in too little tenderness to the accused. Our procedure has been always haunted by the ghost of the Innocent man convicted. It is an unreal dream.” This is an astounding nonfiction accounting of a Willie J. Grimes’ wrongful conviction in 1988, the beginning of ‘The Innocence Project’, and the long, hard fought battle to free an innocent man of a crime he did not commit. As we know, our perceptions and trust in our judicial – law and order – system has changed drastically over the past several decades. With DNA evidence exonerating so many wrongfully convicted people, the system has come under even closer scrutiny, to the point where even hardcore believers in capital punishment no longer advocate for it, not because they stopped believing in the death sentence, but because they are worried to death that an innocent person might die for a crime they didn’t commit. While, a good majority of those sitting in prisons are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, there are more and more cases like Willie Grimes coming to light. Part of the reason why is because of forensics, and high -profile cases picked up by the media. But, credit must be given to ‘The Innocence Project’, as well. While all of these cases are absolutely heartbreaking, the case of Willie Grimes is especially hard to take. Willie worked two jobs and was in a stable relationship. But, when an elderly woman was raped, Willie was misidentified as the perpetrator, and the investigators knew it and helped the erroneous information along. Willie did what he could to fight his conviction, even while he suffered though horrible depression and illness. The one bright spot for Willie and others in his position was the interest and involvement of Chris Mumma, who picked up his file. The road was long, filled with disappointments and setbacks, but after twenty-four years in prison, Willie was finally exonerated. This book highlights the ways wrongful convictions can occur, with law enforcement not following up, ignoring facts, creating evidence, coupled with eyewitness mistakes, in regards to identification, or with the defendant having limited legal recourse. In the hurry to close cases, a multitude of mistake can happen, investigations are lazy/ dirty/messy- or alternative suspects are not pursued. It is a travesty. Not only do the innocent lose years of their lives they will never be able to get back or do over, but justice is not being served. How many other women were raped because the wrong guy was convicted? How many people are walking around free as a bird, after having committed a crime, while someone else is languishing in prison or worse- on death row? This is a very thought-provoking book, which is extremely well written and organized. It stays on topic without straying off course or going on long diatribes or preachy soap box sermons. The author keeps the book pretty much about Willie Grimes and his life in prison, how he coped, how he fought, and about Chris Mumma and the Innocence Project who noticed all the discrepancies in Willie’s case and worked to bring his plight back into the court system. Once someone is behind bars, it is very, very difficult to get a conviction overturned or get a new trial, even when there is overwhelming evidence of innocence. Thankfully, in Willie’s case, everyone’s hard work paid off and he managed to get his moment of redemption. Willie’s story angered me, frustrated me, and it was certainly a depressing and gloomy journey, but at the same time, I was buoyed by time and energy people put in to see that Willie’s case was finally heard. Overall, this book is an important book, one of justice denied and justice found. There are thousands of people in prison for crimes they did not commit. It is as important as ever to prevent anyone from spending a day behind bars for a crime they are innocent of, and to incarcerate those who are guilty of those crimes, which makes organizations like The Innocence Project necessary. 4.5 stars
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  • Martha Toll
    January 1, 1970
    Here is my review of this book on NPR. http://www.npr.org/2017/08/13/5420625...
  • Janel
    January 1, 1970
    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 o 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.*My thanks to the publisher (Little, Brown and Company) for granting me access to a digital copy of this book via Netgalley*
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  • Lou
    January 1, 1970
    Injustices with a quiet giant, Willie J Grimes.Unsettling on its revelations, informative on the history of injustices.Will Grimes will stay with the reader for some time for his patience against the injustice.This work will have you ruminate on the ones that have been sentenced to death innocents unjustly lost.They may be some respite in knowing Grimes was one of the lucky ones that was freed eventually.The life to and fro from prison to prison, the inadequate representations and care, and lack Injustices with a quiet giant, Willie J Grimes.Unsettling on its revelations, informative on the history of injustices.Will Grimes will stay with the reader for some time for his patience against the injustice.This work will have you ruminate on the ones that have been sentenced to death innocents unjustly lost.They may be some respite in knowing Grimes was one of the lucky ones that was freed eventually.The life to and fro from prison to prison, the inadequate representations and care, and lack of chances of parole despite the weak evidences against him.The lack of proper due care or maybe even due respect to process evidences, all things preceding and after his arrest.Race could come into this failure, but the lawyers representing him had two others, two white males, who where also exonerated after some time of incarceration also mentioned in this book in not so much detail, this book is more about Grimes’s sphere.Various chapters walk the world around Grimes, his incarceration, his poverty and the pursuit of truth and freedom.There is also some telling on how the North Carolina's Innocence Inquiry Commission was formed and its first few successful exonerations which started the cogs working for some justice upon a part of this earth.A well done representation and informative investigative writing on a tragic case of innocent charged as guilty.https://more2read.com/review/ghost-of-the-innocent-man-by-benjamin-rachlin/
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  • Maggie Holmes
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Edelweiss, I read this as a pre-pub. I have always been interested in the justice system and was fascinated by Picking Cotton and Grisham's Innocent Man. Legally, innocence is not enough to overturn a jury conviction. What kind of sense does that make?What makes this book different from the other two books is that it tells the story of the development of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission along side the story of Willie Grimes. Willie's story is sad but with a good ending. Thanks to Edelweiss, I read this as a pre-pub. I have always been interested in the justice system and was fascinated by Picking Cotton and Grisham's Innocent Man. Legally, innocence is not enough to overturn a jury conviction. What kind of sense does that make?What makes this book different from the other two books is that it tells the story of the development of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission along side the story of Willie Grimes. Willie's story is sad but with a good ending. The Commission tells a story that needs to be told to a much bigger audience. Why don't more states develop this type of commission? I hope Rachlin can get this story out there and it sparks a demand for more action.
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  • Catherine Read
    January 1, 1970
    What a remarkable book. The entire gripping story is gleaned from 25 years worth of notes, transcripts, forms, files, interviews and testimony. No one's name has been changed because it's all a matter of public record. If transparency is what you want, then this style of non-fiction investigative journalism will deliver that on every page.The book starts off telling two stories: The conviction of Willie James Grimes in 1989 for a rape in Hickory, NC; and the formation of North Carolina's Innocen What a remarkable book. The entire gripping story is gleaned from 25 years worth of notes, transcripts, forms, files, interviews and testimony. No one's name has been changed because it's all a matter of public record. If transparency is what you want, then this style of non-fiction investigative journalism will deliver that on every page.The book starts off telling two stories: The conviction of Willie James Grimes in 1989 for a rape in Hickory, NC; and the formation of North Carolina's Innocence Inquiry Commission (NCIIC) which is the first and ONLY commission of its kind in the entire United States. In ten years, the NCIIC has exonerated 10 wrongly convicted inmates. The chapters alternate between the two stories, which eventually converge when inmate Willie Grimes eventually connects with Christine Mumma, who was the driving force behind the formation of the NCIIC. As a young lawyer fresh out of law school clerking for the Chief Justice of North Carolina's Supreme Court, I. Beverly Lake, Christine began flagging cases that looked like wrongful convictions. She was frustrated by the fact that appeals were only matters of procedural considerations and NOT about actual innocence. She convinces this conservative Judge to work with the liberal academics of North Carolina's Innocence Project to form a working group that eventual swelled to 30 members from DA offices, sheriff's departments, police departments, defense attorneys and even members of victim's rights group. It was rocky, contentious, messy and hard.The story of the birth of the NCIIC is every bit as gripping and frustrating as the wrongful conviction of Willie James Grimes. We know from the beginning of the book that he is innocent of this crime of rape which happened in Hickory, NC, in 1988. This was at a time when DNA testing was in it's infancy and not used as a primary tool in crime investigations. Willie Grimes is convicted based on the testimony of the 69 year old victim and the testimony of a specialist in hair identification - which would later be totally discredited as a reliable tool for identifying perpetrators. The author, Benjamin Rachlin, walks us through incompetencies at every level - in excruciating detail - from the initial investigation of the crime, to Willie's many moves among multiple prisons for no apparent reason, to psychiatric reports that are breathtaking in their presumptions, misinformation and misdiagnosis.The inhumanity of the criminal justice system screams from every page. And the author is simply relaying the information contained in volumes of reports about every tiny aspect of Willie's life inside the North Carolina prison system. It's also a walk through 25 years of pharmacology in the U.S. This man entered prison taking no medications whatsoever, and the list of prescription medications and the amounts he was given in the almost 25 years he was a prison is mind boggling. The fact that he had advanced prostate cancer that was overlooked despite constant medical supervision is just one of a long list of incompetencies that plagued this man's life. This book is simultaneously infuriating and frustrating and also incredibly inspiring. What happened to Willie Grimes is not some rare case. Far from it. As of March 2017, there have been over 2,000 exonerations in the U.S. - at least one in every state. And that is the tip of the iceberg. Keep in mind that the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission has no counterpart in any other state. There are Innocence Projects scattered across the country doing what work they can, and there are some Conviction Integrity Offices in places like Dallas and Houston. But the North Carolina Legislature formed this commission and FUNDED this commission and gave them legal authority to decide if a convicted defendant is actually innocent. The protagonists in this book are Willie J. Grimes and Christine Mumma. Where their stories converge is the heart of this book. The NCIIC decided to investigate his case - a fascinating look at how they conducted that investigation - and then made their case to the 8 member commission, which voted unanimously to send it to a 3 judge panel. After living every minute with Willie in prison, and watching the machinations of Christine to invent something that had never been done before, I think I held my breath through the last chapters of the book. This book is so real. The writing is excellent. Benjamin Rachlin masterfully weaves all this "information" into a compelling story. And he's not in it. That is the other remarkable aspect of this book - the absence of the writer's presence. That is a talent not to be overlooked. I'm not sure a lesser writer could have turned 24 years of prison reports into a page turner of a book. This author did that.I love this book. It makes me crazy to think that we have allowed this to go on. It makes me crazy to think that after a decade of showing the effectiveness of this kind of commission that NO OTHER STATE has followed North Carolina. Why? Do we really not care enough about the integrity of our system of justice to warrant replicating a proven model that has saved the wrongly convicted from death row and life sentences? WTF?Read this book and then get really really mad. Get up on your high horse and take a wild ride to your state capitol and advocate for your legislature to DO THIS THING!
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  • Vnunez-Ms_luv2read
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book for all. If you think innocent people are convicted or, if you think our justice system would never convict an innocent man. This book will either solidify your position or it should really make you re-think your position. Very good read on the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. We learn how it came to be and how much it comes to mean to William Grimes. We get the story from two perspectives. This is a book that must be read. The book grabs you and does not let you go. W This is a book for all. If you think innocent people are convicted or, if you think our justice system would never convict an innocent man. This book will either solidify your position or it should really make you re-think your position. Very good read on the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. We learn how it came to be and how much it comes to mean to William Grimes. We get the story from two perspectives. This is a book that must be read. The book grabs you and does not let you go. Wonderful written. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
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  • Margaret Bryson
    January 1, 1970
    This is an excellent book. It outlines the creation of the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission which has been instrumental in having many wrongful convictions overturned. It also tells the heartbreaking story of Willie Grimes who was convicted, with nothing but an eye witness identification for a crime her did not commit. He spent 20 years trying to get someone to help prove his innocence. People don't realize just how often this happens.
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  • McKenzie
    January 1, 1970
    Worth reading to remind/instruct yourself on the injustices of our judicial and prison system. A hard road for any person, let alone one completely undeserving. A well written account that pulls you into the experience of an innocent bystander and the crusaders dedicated to freeing him and others like him.
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  • Nicole Aronis
    January 1, 1970
    Great book, a fascinating story that'll have you rooting both for and against law enforcement: for the ones out for justice and against those who don't even seem to want to do their job. Grimes' story is truly inspirational and Rachlin's writing captures the frustration and the jubilation perfectly.
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  • Jane Thompson
    January 1, 1970
    True CrimeAn excellent book, a good story. The author makes a good argument for every state to have an innocence project like the one in North Carolina. The story of Willie Grimes's long incarceration is told realistically and sensitively.
  • Kathy
    January 1, 1970
    It's hard to believe this kind of thing can happen in our courts, but it does. I applaud Willie Grimes's determination to not give in to pressure to sign a statement acknowledging guilt for a crime he did not commit & for his perseverance in proclaiming his innocence.
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  • Kim
    January 1, 1970
    Witness IDs suck. The death penalty should be abolished.
  • Tom Mueller
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent Innocence Project...as of 2017, the only of its' kind in the country.
  • Kim Gausepohl
    January 1, 1970
    A frustrating read due to a frustrating legal quagmire.
  • Fred
    January 1, 1970
    This is fabulous reportage of a truly terrible miscarriage of justice. Highly recommended.
  • Joe Hecker
    January 1, 1970
    Justice has nothing to do with innocence. A very well written story about one man's quest for justice and the start of The Innocence Project.
  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    Book was okay. One of those tales of a witness identifying the wrong person, and that person being vindicated after many years in person.
  • Carmel
    January 1, 1970
    Not quite a "page-turner" but a remarkable story of justice. Some parts were slow reading but hell, spending two decades in prison for a crime you didn't commit would also be slow. We should all be angry that this occurred, OCCURS, in our criminal justice system. Aren't we better than this? Is it better for a guilty man to walk free than an innocent man proclaimed guilty? Many thoughts here. Highly recommended.
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  • Lindsey
    January 1, 1970
    Brilliant. I'm an attorney, and it's always difficult to explain to laypeople how sometimes, even when the parts work the way they are supposed to, the justice system fails. Of course in this case the parts didn't work the way they're supposed to, and as a result an innocent man was imprisoned for decades. We think there are so many safeguards to protect the accused's rights that there's no way a mistake of this magnitude could occur but it happens every day. Benjamin Rachlin has put together a Brilliant. I'm an attorney, and it's always difficult to explain to laypeople how sometimes, even when the parts work the way they are supposed to, the justice system fails. Of course in this case the parts didn't work the way they're supposed to, and as a result an innocent man was imprisoned for decades. We think there are so many safeguards to protect the accused's rights that there's no way a mistake of this magnitude could occur but it happens every day. Benjamin Rachlin has put together a wonderfully researched, well-written, sympathetic narrative of the ways in which the justice system fails every day. It is an exposure of the flaws of a system that is prejudiced and capable of egregious errors, sometimes with no recourse for correction. Very, very well done.I received this book through Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.
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