The Innocent Man referenced Robert Mayer's The Dreams of Ada several times, so I added it to my list of to-read's for the spring.
In 1984 in Ada, Oklahoma, Denice Haraway goes missing from her convenience store job. A cigarette and a beer can are left behind. There is no trace of her anywhere. The police focus on two boys in town, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot. The only problem? They most likely didn't do it. The crime scene was cleaned up by the convenience store owner before the police even thought about securing it, the sketch of the suspects was identified as several men around town, and no body was found. Tommy confesses to the crime--only he tells the police about it as a dream with few accurate details. This does not stop the Ada DA's from prosecuting and the jury finding the boys guilty. Tommy and Karl are sentenced to death.
It still blows my mind that this kind of thing is possible even though I know it is and to this day The Innocence Project has aided in the exoneration of over 300 inmates across the country as of February 1, 2013. Obviously it happens. But the drive behind the prosecution of people without the evidence to support the prosecution--and then the conviction even though the evidence does not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt--blows my mind.
I am also aware that false confessions happen with alarming frequency. Most people assume that if you confess, you must be guilty--why on earth would anyone not guilty confess? "I would never do it," you say to yourself. The truth, however, is that with enough goading, with enough sleep deprivation, and with enough promises to make your life more difficult/far easier, you would probably give up your own mother. Chances are even higher if you have a low IQ, emotional disturbances, or are ignorant of the law. Tommy and Karl just weren't aware that they could demand attorneys.
Mayer is a fantastic writer. He takes what could have been a dry retelling of a court case into an honest and thoughtful rendering two men's lives--and those of their families--ruined emotionally and financially. He spends a good amount of time with Tricia, Tommy's sister still living in Ada, and my heart just broke for her. She was only trying to get by with her husband and children. They sank their livelihood into Tommy's defense sure that if they had a good lawyer the truth would come out.
How wrong they were.
Yours to read. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.