Book: Ghost of the Innocent Man
Author: Benjamin Rachlin
Published: August 15, 2017
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.
When I say that this book was nearly impossible to read, I don’t mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that this was so heartbreaking there were times I had to put the book down for a little bit and come back later.
Willie J. Grimes spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The investigators did a horrible job throughout the whole process and as a result, Grimes missed many life moments that you’d never want to miss.
It’s hard to review non-fiction for me because I feel like my review would just be the synopsis and then a couple sentences of what I thought about the writing. I’m not going to do my good, bad, and ugly for this one, mainly because non-fiction, especially biographies like this, are hard to really find something “ugly” or even “bad” about it.
I’d say the only thing I didn’t love about it was that it went into meticulous detail about everything. Which some people would enjoy, but I personally don’t feel like it needed a full page on how testing DNA works. But the author did a fantastic job explaining the entire process, from Grimes’s arrest, his time in prison, the many times the system failed him, all the way through to his release.
The saddest thing about this book is that this isn’t a new or unique story. This has been going on for thousands of years. It’s happening today, right now, in several places of this country alone. I think this book could be a great conversation starter for things like the court system, prison reform, and wrongful convictions.
I would highly recommend this book to everyone. It’s a fascinating, well written, horribly sad true story with a happy ending. As happy as it can be after spending 25 years in prison, that is.