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Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted Hardcover – February 15, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Innocence Project is a pro bono civil rights organization that helps innocent people who have been unjustly imprisoned win their freedom through DNA testing. Run by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld (known for their roles in the O.J. Simpson murder trial), the project has thus far managed to free 43 wrongly convicted people and has taken on the cases of over 200 more. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Pulitzer-winning columnist Jim Dwyer tell the stories of 10 of the men they have helped. How did these men wind up in prison--some on death row--for rapes and murders they didn't commit? The causes range from mistaken identification by the victims to sloppy police work--and, in some cases, outright dereliction of duty or fabrication of evidence. Far too often, cops lock on to their suspect early and decide that their instincts can't possibly be wrong--an attitude that can persist even after the falsely accused has been exonerated. "If he is innocent," says one investigator of a man who spent seven years in prison, "I wish him a good life, but I will have no remorse for him. I have no remorse for anyone that I have ever arrested."

Though the writing is not always graceful, what matters in Actual Innocence is not the quality of the prose but the importance of the Innocence Project's work. Scheck and Neufeld's commitment to justice is evident in each of these stories, and the problems they force us to address--not just concerning the imprisonment of innocent people but in restoring their lives upon release--cannot be ignored.

From Publishers Weekly

Scheck gained celebrity for his role in the defense of O.J. Simpson and the "nanny trial" of Louise Woodward. But most of his cases are unsung, and usually he gets involved later on, after a verdict of guilty has been handed down. He and partner Neufeld founded the Innocence Project to aid those who have been wrongly convicted--a failure of justice that occurs with frightening frequency, as documented in this startling expose. The Innocence Project alone has helped 43 wrongfully convicted persons--one was actually on death row for 12 years--gain their freedom, primarily through the use of new DNA techniques, which can be applied to old evidence (blood or, in the case of rape, semen). What Scheck, Neufeld and Pulitzer-winning Daily News columnist Dwyer offer here is a report on the many ways justice can go astray and an innocent person be convicted. Perhaps one of the more shocking of their revelations is the unreliability of eyewitness testimony; in addition to studies and statistics, they present a case in which three eyewitnesses separately identified the defendant as a rapist/robber: evidence uncovered by Scheck and Neufeld eventually exonerated him. Scheck and Neufeld offer a litany of such errors, along with detailed case histories: false "confessions," fraudulent lab results, junk science (particularly the use of hair typing as evidence), prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate defense lawyering have all led to convictions of the innocent. The authors offer concrete advice on how these dangers can be minimized (e.g., videotaping all police interrogations to ensure confessions aren't forced). This is an alarming wake-up call to those who administer our justice system that serious flaws must be addressed to protect the innocent. Literary Guild featured selection. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038549341X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385493413
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jacqueline on March 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Everyone with a heart, brain, soul and/or conscience must read this book.
This book tells the stories of many men who were convicted unjustly. While I expected to learn of the stories of the men who were proven "actually innocent" by DNA, I didn't expect to find that in doing so it exposed many other injustices as well.
What I found was that while DNA was the catalyst, and the ultimate proof that set these men free - it did far more than that. It was because of the DNA evidence that the courts were forced to see that there are far more flaws the justice system than any of us would like to admit.
I found myself alternately fascinated and appalled throughout this book.
What truly amazed me was that "actual innocence" is not the be all and end all in the courts as it should be. I was floored that even though a person could be proven "actually innocent" via DNA, there were still hoops that lawyers had to leap through to obtain justice.
I would urge everyone who reads this book to take note to the suggestions peppered throughout and take action to make the changes necessary (whether it be on the state or federal level) to make sure that the guilty are punished, not the innocent.
For anyone who thinks that this book is for "bleeding-heart liberals", remember this - for every person unjustly imprisoned, and God forbid, sentenced to death - there is the very real probability that the real perpetrator is still out there.
I would urge EVERYONE to buy this book and learn from it.
I would really like to give this book a rating much higher that five (5) stars, as I believe it should serve as an educational experience for all of us.
Don't remain anonymous - buy this book, learn from it and act.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Warren C. Lathe on February 7, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The authors belong to the "Innocence Project", an organized attempt to determine the innocence or guilt through recently available DNA evidence of those convicted of murder/violent crimes. In over 80 cases the were able to _prove_ the innocence of the wrongly convicted, many on death row.
This book results from that project and outlines in each chapter some of the failures of the justice system in these cases including the unreliability of eyewitnesses, incompentant defense lawyers, poor laws and more. The book is straightforwardly written and very easy reading. It is also a strong indictment against our current justice system. Unlike many 'critical' books, the authors also offer suggestions for changes that would help improve our justice system and lower the number of the wrongly convicted.
This book has gotten me to think so much about our system of justice and the ramifications, that we have decided to us it as a book in our family book club and I view some experiences now through the prism of this book (recent experience with hearing two very different stories from two people of the same exact event). That a book has affected the way I percieve things is a mark of a good book.
The one criticism I have of the book is that there is not enough supporting evidence. Though I know the focus of the book is what they had learned from the Innocence Project and not a research survey, I would like to have seen more collaborative statistics and references in each chapter (perhaps an appendix with a few studies and further reading would have been welcome).
Still, it is an important and interesting book and well worth reading.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By William Reinhardt on April 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What a shocking book about American justice! It seems that many of the things that minorities have been complaining about over the years are being undisputedly validated. If the current L.A. Police Department's probe into the Rampart Station rogue police officers making their own version of justice, or the New York Police Department's multiple shootings and/or maltreatment of unarmed minorities are not bad enough, then comes along this incredible book.
Written by Jim Dwyer in a journalistic style, the story is told in unremitting forthrightness. Even though the obvious intent is not to scream and yell, their passion for the truth shines through on every page, and the facts speak for themselves. The statistics are horrible.
It is typical American paradox, in a legal profession that purports to champion the causes of truth and justice, so many that are in positions of power will blatantly ignore, manipulate or fabricate these two ideals. That includes pandering politicians as well.
Just a simple two paragraph quote from the book will give you insight of the serious, damaging and outrageous facts that the authors elucidate: "In the United States, there are grave consewquences when an airplane falls from the sky; and automobile has a defective part; a patient is the victim of malpractice, a bad drug, or an erroneous lab report. Serious inquiries are made: What went wrong? Was it a systemic breakdown? An individual's mistake? Was there official misconduct? Can anything be done to correct the problem and prevent it from happening again?
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