John Grisham’s first legal thriller follows the true story of small town hero Ron Williamson, his decline as he suffers from neglected mental problems and a frequent tendency to self-medicate, and his eventual conviction for a murder he did not commit.
Due to a flawed legal system and bias, ignorant legal practitioners, Ron and his supposed accomplice, a young widowed man named Dennis Fritz targeted for unclear reasons and a blurry tie to Ron, the two men are accused of the rape and brutal murder of Debbie Carter, the young pretty waitress at one of the town’s most popular night clubs. Grisham allows the facts to speak for themselves and slowly this wonderful book reveals a tragedy of mind and soul, as an innocent man has his life stolen away, a strong and supportive family loses their brightest light, and a town begins to reek of unfairness, judgment, and a cruel fear of the unknown, a tempting assumption that a blatant lie is truth.
Ron remains in prison, awaiting execution, for eleven years before the city of Ada and the great state of Oklahoma realize their inconvenient and costly mistake. Ron, at one point only five meager days away from the end of death row, survived the process but not with his mind or health. By the eventual time of his belated release, the once legendary baseball player, the next Mickey Mantle, was a schizophrenic recluse with deep physical health issues. The Innocent Man is not a story of hope and second chances- Ron lost his life because of another man’s actions, even if his heart did not officially stop beating until recently. Grisham paints the picture of the perfect tragedy.
The tedious story portrays the heartbreak of a family that can do nothing but stare in horror and the crucial effect of a lazy legal force. The Innocent Man sends a loud and clear message to every reader, and proves to be a factual, intelligent read, all the while remaining emotionally involved. Grisham gives this man and his family more than justice- he writes the truth, which is more than they were ever shown in their real and very horrible ordeal.