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Publisher's Summary

John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction, an exploration of small town justice gone terribly awry, is his most extraordinary legal thriller yet.

In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits—drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.

In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.

If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.

©2006 John Grisham (P)2006 Random House, LLC

Critic Reviews

"Like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, The Innocent Man brings a novelist's eye to re-creating a complex chain of events and human reaction surrounding a crime and its aftermath. There are plenty of twists and turns in this tale, but the dominant note is one of compassion for the innocent man" ( Sunday Times)

What listeners say about The Innocent Man

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    4 out of 5 stars

Grisham at his best!

Ron Williams makes you want to cry but also makes you angry sometimes, powerful story

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  • Patricia
  • 10-04-16

truly amazing story

excellent narrator most unforgettable story you would'nt
think this misjudgement happened very sad story

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  • Daniel Webb
  • 05-05-16

Phenomenal

Loved every minute of it and astonished by its content! Grisham is a favourite of mine and I highly recommend anyone read this that has also watched or is aware of the Making of a Murderer series on tv.

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  • bbk
  • 06-21-21

Police incompetence ruins people's lives

Fans of true crime will recognise the entire bag of tropes: bad policing, bad science, court proceedings that rely too much on dramatics instead of evidence, rampant prison abuse, ignorance regarding mental health issues, small town gossip reigning supreme and making a fair trial impossible. The story really has it all.

The book took a while to get into, because its main character's personality was annoying - the overly entitled small town jock.

However, once the local police decides, for no particular reason other than their own laziness and prejudice, to zero in on him as the prime suspect for a gruesome rape and murder I started to feel for him. Any seasoned true crime aficionado will see right away that the police is way off base in this case, and will recognise that typical, dangerous stubbornness some cops and prosecutors maintain even on the face of evidence and objectivity, just so they don't have to admit they were wrong, consequences be damned.

The middle of the book is very frustrating, where a bunch of people - some family, some decent, competent people from within the system - endlessly bang their head against a justice system that seems way too eager to convict and even execute someone, anyone, for reasons that have little to do with justice as such.

The book also shines a light on how misunderstood mental health illness is (was? one can hope things are better today) in general and especially in relation to prison and court proceedings. For the better part of the book, the system treats the main suspect (there are actually 2, both innocent, but the book mainly focuses on one of them) as if he is simply annoying (which he is) and belligerent (he is that too), when he is also very obviously mentally unwell. The way his condition is handled in prison is beyond appalling (his lawyer and the guards decide on how much meds to administer, and that only to knock him out so he won't inconvenience them; the medical professionals are barely listened to; I really hope things are better these days in the US, my jaw dropped during this bit).

That being said, there is a happy ending, in that the two innocents are exonerated. It is good to know there are always some people within the system who won't back down before justice is achieved, in spite of years of slow progress or even setbacks, due to incompetence, prejudice, laziness, stupidity and pigheadedness. It's also important to remember that just closing a case and throwing someone in prison or, even worse, death row, does not always mean justice was served. The victim's family also suffers from a wrong conviction (and the endless appeals on death row, but that is for another case).

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  • Chery
  • 01-27-21

Good book a bit too long

I enjoyed this book. It’s well written, brilliantly narrated and overall a great true story. It just seemed to go on a little too long. Slightly dragged out.That’s my only criticism of an otherwise very good read.

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  • robert David blakely
  • 10-15-20

loved it

brilliant listen to from start to finish actually near brung me to tears at the end a very powerful book

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  • Suzanna Warrick
  • 12-05-19

How could this happen?

You’ll be screaming this inside your head all through this book. Whether you liked Ron or not, it’s a powerful argument against the death penalty.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-18-19

Amazing Story. Phenomenally Written.

John Grisham somehow manages to make a tale based on real life injustices, somehow more real and both heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. Definitely recommend.

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  • Joss
  • 03-04-19

Interesting yet infuriating story!

Felt a little slow at first, but once I was used to the pace I was hooked! Didn't want to stop listening, aside from turning it off once when I became so infuriated at the general incompetence of law enforcement / the judicial system!! Worth a listen.

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  • Susan Rogers
  • 01-25-19

Excellent

It has been some time since I was so engrossed in an audio book that I had to listen at every opportunity. It is a fascinating true story and the breadth and depth of research to bring this story to life is truly impressive. I think Grisham should write more non-fiction.

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  • Jake Dalton
  • 01-15-19

As close to perfect as you'll find.

A truly brilliant, compelling, evocative listen. Highly absorbing and highly recommended. In my opinion, this is what true crime writing should be.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-14-21

not fiction, I wish it was

love the authors books but this one is not fiction and I wish it was, the people who let these injustices happen need to be on the receiving end to understand the difference between fiction and facts