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Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 21, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Bonner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his foreign correspondence for the New York Times, turns his considerable reportorial gifts to the issue of wrongful conviction as seen through the lens of a particular, outrageously mishandled case. The case, from 1982, centered on the conviction of a young black man for the murder of a white widow in South Carolina. Although the trial dates back decades, Bonner reanimates the wrongs of racism, inept defense, and prosecutorial misconduct seen in this case and also in cases across the U.S. The narrative, which moves through the initial trial and eventual freeing of the convicted prisoner, Edward Lee Elmore, is given a face and a voice through Bonner’s focus on the young female lawyer who never gave up on trying to free her client. Far-ranging in its implications, thoughtful, and utterly absorbing, this book is a fine example of involving narrative nonfiction. --Connie Fletcher


“Masterful . . . Eloquent, important, and accessible . . . The book of the century about the death penalty.”
            -Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic
“Mesmerizing . . . Powerful . . . An utterly engrossing true-crime tale.”
            -Kevin Boyle, The New York Times Book Review
“A genuine whodunit, a page-turner, and a tale of redemption. And it’s all true. For all that, however, Anatomy of Injustice is also a blistering indictment of the death penalty . . . Bonner delivers a crackerjack feat of storytelling that steadily administers the truth about capital punishment like a slow, toxic IV drip . . . In his expert hands, the twists and turns of Elmore’s appeals, and the gradual discovery of the travesties in the original investigation and trial by Holt’s team, make for excruciatingly suspenseful reading.”
            -Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Gripping and enraging . . . Bonner’s book is not a treatise against the death penalty. Rather, it is a look at what happens in America’s justice system when justice is absent.”
            -The Economist
“Accomplished and meticulously researched . . . Convincing . . . As a piece of reporting, the book is masterful. Bonner builds the story, and his argument, carefully, rarely editorializing, mixing in a précis of capital punishment in the United States . . . Bonner’s book is an important addition to the body of evidence against the death penalty.”
            -Ethan Gilsdorf, The Boston Globe
“A revealing look at how police and courts grapple with death penalty cases . . . If you are a staunch advocate of the death penalty . . . you’re precisely the person who should read Anatomy of Injustice.”
            -Nicholas Varchaver, Fortune
“The investigation . . . makes for a gripping read, and exposes some outrageous failures of American justice.”
            -“The Must List,” Entertainment Weekly
“Compelling . . . Bonner makes us feel the frustration and inhumanity of a justice system gone awry.”
            -Wilbert Rideau, Financial Times
“Fascinating . . . Anatomy of Injustice moves as swiftly as a great courtroom thriller, and Bonner’s astutely observed characters are as memorable as any you’re likely to encounter in a John Grisham-penned best seller.”
            -Doug Childers, The Richmond Times-Dispatch
“One of the best books written about a dubious conviction . . . Bonner’s volume is special for the way it entwines the lives of the principal characters with the nation’s inglorious history of racial discrimination and capital punishment.”
            -Rob Warden, Chicago Tribune
“Gripping, suspenseful, and electrifying . . . This should be required reading for anyone who believes in justice.”
            -John J. Kelly, Cincinnati CityBeat
“A gifted storyteller, Bonner’s prose is at once stately and matter-of-fact . . . In the context of true crime, of murder stories most especially, [Bonner’s details] assume a captivating glow . . . As a portrait of contemporary American life, immersed in culture wars and classism, and clogged with the residues of racism, Anatomy of Injustice is authoritative and fascinating. As a study in how things can go from bad to worse, how entire lives can be crushed under the wheels of the justice system, it’s also urgent and necessary.”
            -José Teodoro, The Edmonton Journal
“A lucid, page-turning account . . . Elmore’s defense winds through nearly three decades of legal maneuverings as suspenseful as the investigation of the mysterious crime itself. Painstakingly researched by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bonner, the case illustrates in fascinating and wrenching specificity the widely acknowledged inequality and moral failings of the death penalty, while illuminating the less understood details of a criminal justice system deeply compromised by race and class. Indeed, Bonner’s ability to succinctly and vividly incorporate the relevant case history and explain the operative legal procedures and principles at work—including the bizarre way in which court-acknowledged innocence is not necessarily enough to spare a life on death row—makes this not only a gripping human story but a first-rate introduction to the more problematic aspects of American criminal law.”
            -Starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Fascinating . . . Dexterous . . . Well-researched . . . Bonner’s description of decades of bungling is a reminder of the ways class and race can shape outcomes in the American legal system.”
            -Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Far-ranging in its implications, thoughtful, and utterly absorbing, this book is a fine example of involving narrative nonfiction.”
“Sharp . . . A powerfully intimate look at how the justice system works—or doesn’t work—in capital cases.”
“Those interested in human rights, issues of race, and inner workings of the U.S. legal system—not to mention true crime fans—will want to read this book.”
            -Library Journal
“Bonner’s gripping true-crime thriller shines a shocking light on American justice. I couldn’t put it down.”
            -Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side
“Race, sex, and murder in a Southern town are the explosive core of Raymond Bonner’s legal drama. Anatomy of Injustice is also a brave dispatch from the trenches of a forgotten war over capital punishment. Told with a reporter’s tenacity, a lawyer’s acumen, and an advocate’s zeal, this book is both a gripping narrative and a chilling indictment of America’s justice system.”
            -Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic
Anatomy of Injustice demonstrates dramatically and shockingly what bad lawyers are capable of doing, and is an inspiring example of what a good one can do. For that alone, law schools should assign it to every entering student.”
            -Stephen Engelberg, managing editor, ProPublica
“Raymond Bonner uses his skill as a lawyer and journalist to take us on a fascinating journey deep into the heart of the criminal justice system, where the stakes could not be higher or the failures more disturbing. Anatomy of Injustice reads like a novel, but it is, tragically, all too true.”
            -Linda Greenhouse, author of Becoming Justice Blackmun
“Most of us Americans don't have a clue about how the criminal court system really operates and we need a good writer like Bonner to take us through, step by step. But be warned: If you have pressing duties waiting, don't begin reading this book. This is seductive storytelling at its best.”
            -Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
“Reading Raymond Bonner’s compelling account of a grossly botched murder case, I was overcome by outrage at the state of our criminal justice system. Rigorously researched and powerfully told, Anatomy of Injustice could—and should—change the national debate on the death penalty.”
-Michael Massing
"Raymond Bonner's Anatomy of Injustice is a powerful and poignant analysis of the case of Edward Lee Elmore. Bonner's voice is a profound force for truth and justice in our difficult times!"
            -Cornel West


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; Stated First Edition edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307700216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Do not read this book unless you are prepared to have your views on the death penalty and our American justice system challenged. This is a powerful story of a South Carolina murder trial where planted evidence and perjury were used to convict and sentence to death a mentally retarded African American man; it's the story of inept defense lawyers and a politically driven "justice" system which rewards winning over fairness and truth - even when a man's life is at stake. This journey through our court system is engaging, thought-provoking, and often disturbing.

When I started reading this book, I did so because of a general interest in true crime and our court system. At page one, my belief was that while the death penalty is often applied unjustly and capriciously in some states, it is appropriate for our more heinous criminals. As the author states, there are certain "horrific crimes" which "swell the ranks of capital punishment advocates and makes it hard for death penalty agnostics not to become believers." I didn't expect to be swayed from this belief. I was wrong.

In particular, I was shocked to learn how difficult it is to be granted a re-trial after one is convicted, fairly or not, of a crime - even if that conviction results in a death sentence. As the author bluntly states, "Innocence alone does not entitle a defendant to a new trial." He quotes Herrera v. Collins: "Due process does not require that every conceivable step be taken, at whatever cost, to eliminate the possibility of convicting an innocent person. To conclude otherwise would all but paralyze our system for enforcement of the criminal law." The author summarizes this by saying, "the need for finality in legal proceedings sometimes trumps what might be seen as fundamental fairness.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I was much younger, in what I refer to as the "College Republican" phase of my life, I supported the death penalty. It has been nearly 20 years since I ceased to do so; when I switched sides on this issue, I did so because I came to understand the flaws in our criminal justice system, and in particular in the administration of the death penalty--flaws which I have concluded are irreparable. This excellent book identifies many of those flaws, and I commend it to any reader interested in our criminal justice system and in trying to make it function in a way that is truly just.

The injustice which the title of this book refers to was inflicted on Edward Lee Elmore. In 1982, Elmore, a then 23-year-old African American from Greenwood, South Carolina, was arrested for the murder of an elderly white woman, Dorothy Edwards, for whom he had recently done some home maintenance work. He was convicted of her murder and sentenced to the death penalty. Elmore then spent roughly 30 years in prison, almost all of on death row. While neither I nor any reader can conclude with 100% certainty that he was not guilty, it is hard to avoid the conclusion, after reading Raymond Bonner's book, that Elmore was most likely innocent of the crime for which he spent years in prison and nearly was executed for, and that someone else murdered Dorothy Edwards and got away with it. It is my opinion that this is what happened.

Raymond Bonner is an experienced journalist and a very good writer, the author of excellent books on many subjects. He is also a former lawyer and law professor. As such, he is well equipped to write a book like this. He skillfully guides the reader through both the factual record and the potentially confusing legal issues.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reading this book was both alarming and exciting. It is written in such a way that I felt I was in the courtroom, in the prison, in lawyers' offices. If more folk could/would read this then maybe the death penalty could be revoked.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an incredibly powerful book. The title nails the subject matter exactly. Raymond Bonner examines very closely the case of Edward Lee Elmore from beginning to end (almost as there is a final update this spring). This case has about everything that could possibly be wrong with American justice and almost nothing that is right. It's a distressing read. While I think what happened to this defendant is fairly rare percentage wise, there is NO excuse for it ever happening here. It's almost believable that it happened once but during almost 30 years of travels through the court system that it took someone this long to do the right thing is inexplicable.

I know that the author and the defense lawyers believe Edward Lee Elmore is innocent. Whether he is or not I don't know despite a very powerful argument that he is indeed innocent in fact. However, what should be clear to any reasonable person is that he was abused and abused badly by the criminal justice system and that the rest of us should be outraged and those involved should be ashamed. Justice was not done in this case regardless of the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

I very highly recommend this book to any American of any law and order persuasion. It's that good and what's more it's that important.
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