Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

When the System Fails

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

When the System Fails

Article excerpt


When the System Fails

Tales of the Wrongfully Convicted

By Diane Cole

Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted

Edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger

Liveright. 304 pages.


You can take it as good news or bad news that since 1989, American courts have overturned 2,000 wrongful convictions of serious crimes. This number, reported by the University of Michigan Law School's National Registry of Exonerations, speaks to the strength of organizations like the Innocence Project, created by attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992, that work to exonerate the wrongly convicted. According to its estimates, as many as five percent of the US prison population--up to 120,000 people--are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. Which means that the 2,000 exonerated are the "lucky" ones. Some luck! Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted presents the real, waking-nightmare stories of 15 men and women wrongfully convicted of unthinkable crimes they didn't commit, and for which they spent years, sometimes decades, in prison, before being exonerated and freed.

With these representative stories, editors Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger bring to Kafkaesque life the harrowing journeys, actual and psychological, from accusation and interrogation to trial, imprisonment, and finally, freedom. Although these victims of our justice system must ultimately reckon with the internal cost of the ordeal and figure out how to reconstruct a semblance of the lives they were robbed of, they also have much to teach us about their hard-earned strategies for survival and resilience, and the persistence of hope in the face of desperate circumstances.

The editors' astute commentaries further fill readers in about such pertinent but often misunderstood issues as the limits of forensic evidence (despite what many TV shows and films would have us believe), the pervasive influence of bias and racism in singling out individuals who "fit" a preconceived criminal profile, and the host of psychologically manipulative techniques that interrogators can legally use and that, whether intended or not, can end up driving pressured suspects into false confessions.

The already gripping narratives in each chapter are made all the more transfixing by the writing of Sara Paretsky, Lee Child, Laurie King, and other high-profile mystery, detective, and crime writers. A previously unpublished essay by Arthur Miller also appears in the book, making the case against capital punishment, lest someone like Peter Reilly, wrongfully convicted at the age of 18 in 1973 of decapitating his mother, die before his innocence can be proven. Introductions by bestselling author Scott Turow and attorney Barry Scheck warn that human error and psychological blind spots will always play a part in such injustice. That's why, especially in our current era of renewed calls for law and order, it's essential to guard against any rush to justice that might lead instead to injustice--at great human cost.

For California exoneree Gloria Killian, the waking nightmare of wrongful conviction began when she was a law student in her early 30's and the police knocked on her door to ask a few questions about the brutal home invasion and murder of a married couple who happened to be friends of a friend. At first, since she herself had never had any previous brushes with the law, she assumed the police were after her boyfriend, who was on probation for DUI violations. She offered to help however she could. Utterly bewildered by their questions about her own involvement, and despite her knowledge of the justice system, she even initially waived her right to an attorney--"Why would I want an attorney?" she'd asked--thinking that, because she was innocent of the crime, she could quickly set the record straight and clear up whatever misunderstanding had taken place. …

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