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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 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 (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 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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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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Caz on March 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I picked this title up on the weekend, and have been engrossed in it ever since. What the authors showcase reveals the appalling state of the judicial system in the USofA. From 'snitch' testimony being the backbone of a case - to the warped and twisted serologists who've framed numerous individuals with crimes they didn't commit, the contents of this writing will shake the reader to the core. If it doesn't... then you don't likely have a pulse. There's a grass-roots movement regarding crime and punishment - and well there should be, given what is reported in "Actual Innocence". The Law needs a shakedown, and the public needs to call for it. I highly recommend this intelligent and articulate presentation of a very controversial subject. As Sir William Hamilton once said, "The truth, like a torch, when it's shook it shines." Here's to the truth shining bright as day upon all the dark nooks and crannies of the American judicial system (and beyond!). Kudos to the authors, who've held their torch high and are shining a beacon across the land.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Cooper on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A powerful, moving and well-written book. Away from all the moral problems with capital punishment, the Authors are able to focus on legal issues and statistics to show the problems of executing inmates. Many of the research for this book come from The Innocence Project and from the Federal Government, in the form of published reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In brief, this book provides a few stories and they explain how people in this country are wrongly convicted and how scientific evidence, specifically DNA Testing, can help prove their innocence.
The book also looks at other sources of problems within the judicial system - Prosecutorial/police misconduct, lazy defense counsels and death-biased juries.
This book provides the reader with an educated discussion on the problems of the death penalty. I highly recommend it to everyone and challenge the proponents of the death penalty to read this and look into their own souls to determine if this is a system we want to continue.
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