The Innocent Man by John Grisham


The Innocent Man, by John Grisham, is based on the true story of Ronald Williamson, an Oklahoma man who had narrowly escaped execution, only to die of liver disease. Williamson's was a star pitcher and catcher on his high school team, drafted by the Oakland A's only to have his career end 6 years later with an arm injury.  John Grisham found this of interest as he had aspired to be a baseball player before dropping out and going into law and then writing.   

Ron returned to his hometown and lived with his mother always believing he would someday return to the big leagues.  Debra Sue Carter was a cocktail waitress who was raped and killed after Ron’s return. The case went unsolved for over 3 years but Ron and a friend of his, Dennis Fritz, were finally arrested for the murder. The only evidence was a statement from Glen Gore who was the person who put Ron at the scene of the crime. Ron was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, while Fritz received a life sentence.

DNA placed Glen Gore at the crime scene, but it didn’t happen until 5 days before the planned execution. Five years later Ron died in a nursing home from cirrhosis of the liver.

Grisham said he bought rights to the story after reading it in the newspaper and it became his first nonfiction book. The story has many of the common themes of Grisham’s novels but the experience of reading it is very different. You miss the dialog of the characters and depend on the updates and reports of what has happened.

Doubleday’s president Stephen Rubin said of the book that it was a natural story for Grisham to write since it had many themes like those in his books, such as wrongful conviction, the death penalty and it was a legal thriller.

I didn’t think it qualified as a legal thriller because the plot wasn’t revealed in dialog through the characters but as news reports of what had happened. 


“No star fades faster than that of a high school athlete.” 

“A hundred years earlier, in Hopt v. Utah, the Supreme Court ruled that a confession is not admissible if it is obtained by operating on the hopes or fears of the accused, and in doing so deprives him of the freedom of will or self-control necessary to make a voluntary statement. In 1897, the Court, in Bram v. United States, said that a statement must be free and voluntary, not extracted by any sorts of threats or violence or promises, however slight. A” 

“There’s an old adage in bad trial lawyering that when you don’t have the facts, do a lot of yelling.”

See Literary Favorites Section under John Grishman for more information on this author and links to all his reviews on this site