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.)
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