In 1978, a young white couple was abducted at gunpoint from a 24-hour filling station in Homewood, Illinois, and taken to a predominantly black neighborhood outside of Chicago. They were forced into an abandoned, decayed townhouse where the woman was raped repeatedly; shortly thereafter, both were dead from multiple gunshot wounds. The investigation seemed open-and-shut. An eyewitness described two of the suspects running from the townhouse, one with a gun in his hand. Another witness claimed to hear two of the suspects bragging about the murders. Most damning of all, the girlfriend of one of the suspects claimed she was present in the townhouse; later, she claimed, she witnessed the actual murders. Four men--Dennis Williams, Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge, and Kenny Adams--were ultimately convicted, and two of them sentenced to death.
Several years later, Rob Warden, the editor of a Chicago law review journal, noticed irregularities in the case and asked his friend David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor, to get involved. The truth came out grudgingly, after years of reinvestigation, but when it did, it revealed one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American legal history, a classic "rush to judgment" that ultimately cost four men a collective 65 years in prison. Protess and Warden, writing in the third person, demonstrate conclusively (with assistance from many helpers) that the four men were innocent. This is a spellbinding, powerful account of undeniable negligence and arrogance resulting from the local district attorney's vainglorious need to have the double murder solved quickly, at all costs. It's also a strong reminder of the power of detail-oriented investigative journalism, even in a sound-bite age. --Tjames Madison
From Publishers Weekly
In this expose of an astonishing case of legal incompetence, Protess, a professor of journalism and urban affairs at Northwestern University, and Warden, a Chicago freelance investigative journalist, detail the inept police work, perjured testimony and mistakes of defense attorneys that combined to convict four African American males of crimes they did not commit. Childhood friends who grew up in East Chicago, the "Ford Heights Four"?Dennis Williams, Kenny Adams, Willie Rainge and Verneal Jimerson?were arrested and found guilty of the 1978 double rape and murder of a white couple. Warden, receiving a letter in 1982 from Williams on death row, became persuaded that the convictions were based on tainted evidence and published an article on the case in Chicago Lawyer. Appeals, retrials and other strategies failed to free the men until Protess joined the struggle with three of his students and a team of volunteer lawyers. Their investigation of police files, the use of new forensic technologies and interviews with those connected with the case helped lead to the arrests of the real killers. In 1996 the Ford Heights Four were released. Notwithstanding their dramatic portrayal of a heroic effort, against all odds, to rectify the failures of the justice system, some troubling errors in the writers' account lead one to wonder if all their facts have been thoroughly checked.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.