John Grisham on Judges, Innocence and the Judgments He Ignores

It was mentioned that you worked on the Innocence Project. Expand on your discussion of the American criminal justice system and the lessons you took away from it.

I never anticipated being a part of something like that. I’ve practised criminal defence law in Mississippi for the last ten years, where the judicial system is first-rate. I was familiar with how everything worked; from the police to the prosecutors to the judges. Everyone behaved honestly.

John Grisham on Judges, Innocence and the Judgments He Ignores


John Grisham on Judges, Innocence and the Judgments He Ignores

Many of my clients were incarcerated. They deserve it. Nobody I’ve ever worked with has ever received an unjust conviction. Before — do you know Jim Dwyer? — I was unaware that these things were happening.

A colossus in every sense of the word, Jim was.

He wrote this obituary in December 2004. I always find the New York Times obituaries to be incredibly moving for some reason.

n a workday, the obituary was published. The plot revolved around an Oklahoman man of my age, race, religion, and background, as well as a man from a little town in rural Arkansas.

And in 1973, the year I hoped to be drafted, the Oakland A’s selected him in the second round of the draught. Never was my name mentioned. Despite being selected in the first round, he was not chosen for the team.

He had grown up as a celebrated sports hero in Oklahoma, but upon returning home, he was prosecuted for capital murder, found guilty, and given the death penalty. He had served 11 years when he was just five days away from passing away.

I’m currently reading his obituary as a result. He had just gone away moments before after DNA cleared him. The story hit me square in the face. Within a few days I was in a small Oklahoman town. I’ve only ever published one nonfiction book, and that’s this one.

Before reading this book, which was published in 2006, I had never heard of unjust convictions. I became more aware of how many innocent individuals there are in prison today as I learnt more during my study of “The Innocent Man” I agreed to Barry Scheck’s request to join the board of directors of the Innocence Project.

Numerous innocent people have been released from jails across the nation thanks to DNA testing. In addition, 375 individuals, including some who were on death row, have been cleared using DNA evidence.

The task becomes addictive because you become so invested in these customers’ lives. The injustice of someone doing 20 or 30 years in prison for someone else’s crime nags at me even when you are certain they are innocent. I intend to fight this battle for the rest of my life, and I intend to prevail.

It is inspiring to see someone who has attained your level of achievement use it to complete such important and worthwhile work.

Last Words

Adam, I’ve got a secret for you. There is so much anguish and suffering, as well as missed opportunities and resources, that follow from a single erroneous arrest and subsequent unfair conviction while the real perp is still at large that a whole book might be written about erroneous convictions alone.