cover image Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption

Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption

Benjamin Rachlin. Little, Brown, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-31149-6

Justice is unconscionably delayed in this absorbing true-crime saga. Rachlin’s debut recounts the case of Willie James Grimes, a North Carolina man sentenced to life in prison for rape in 1988. Despite having a competent lawyer and a strong alibi, Grimes was convicted on forensic analysis of a hair found at the crime scene and on the victim’s seemingly ironclad—as far as the jury knew—identification. Without procedural errors to appeal and with the physical evidence apparently lost after the trial, the attempts to prove Grimes’s innocence hit a judicial brick wall, resulting in a decades-long stay for Grimes in North Carolina’s prison system. Rachlin weaves Grimes’s Kafkaesque ordeal—Grimes’s chance at parole hinged on his confessing guilt—together with the efforts of lawyer Christine Mumma and other reformers to establish North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission, an innovative state agency that investigates potential wrongful convictions. Rachlin combines a gripping legal drama with a penetrating exposé of the shoddy investigative and trial standards nationwide, as evidenced by hundreds of postconviction exonerations. Finally, as Grimes moves beyond anger and despair over his plight, Rachlin’s narrative offers a moving evocation of faith under duress. Photos. (Aug.)