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A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent Men Hardcover – August 3, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1 edition (August 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786862947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786862948
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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.

Customer Reviews

You need to read this book.
Sheila Berry (
This book would've been much better if Protess and Warden simply turned over their notes and sources to a more objective, more skillful writer.
Chris Serb
Or perhaps it is an argument against the bizarre U.S. system of ELECTING prosecutors.
David C N Swanson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David C N Swanson on January 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the story of four men who were framed by police and prosecutors and put in prison and on death row for eighteen years. Although you know before reading the book that the men were eventually exonerated, the book grips you.
It's a courageous, honest, and intelligent story of prosecutorial corruption and defense lawyers' almost superhuman incompetence. Despite the paranoia that events like these create in victims of injustice and the cynicism they foster in do-gooders, this should be received as a hopeful book, proof that injustice is not invincible.
But hope should not become complacency. As the authors write:
"There's no way to know how many wrongful convictions there are, but even if the error rate in the criminal justice system were only one percent there'd be more than ten thousand cases in the country."
The police in this case had a standard procedure of keeping two files, one of them secret. The prosecutors had sophisticated systems in place for stifling the truth. These facts suggest an "error rate" potentially higher than one percent.
Citing a book by Michael Radelet, the authors report that there have been 421 Americans this century convicted of capital crimes and later proved innocent. In 23 of these cases the proof came too late.
In this case, the police had good leads on the actual criminals. These were kept quiet because of political connections until the wrong men had been publicly accused. After they had accused four men, prosecutors did not want to switch to accusing different ones just because the new ones looked like they might really be guilty. So the evidence was buried.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By or Grace Elting Castle on August 5, 1998
Format: Hardcover
They weren't naive. Having grown up in the predominately Black neighborhoods of Chicago, Dennis Williams, Ken Adams, Verneal Jimerson and Willie Rainge, knew that "justice" was often only a word loosely used, and not necessarily readily available to young, Black men. All too soon they were to become the victims of the "justice system". Wrongfully convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping, they were to spend the next 18 years locked in some of Illinois's most fearsome prisons. Two of them were confined to death row, appeals exhausted,clinging to the hope that someone, somewhere would make it right, would finally realize what police and prosecutorial misconduct, combined with an apathetic legal community, can do to young lives.
Protess and Warden, two of the nation's leading reporters of criminal injustice, as well as warriors of justice for the wrongfully accused and convicted, take us on a heartwrenching journey as they are joined by others det! ermined to unearth the true story before the executions are conducted.
This is a book that cannot be confined to the shelves marked "legal" or "history" or "investigations"---it's truly a book which should be mandatory reading for everyone. This story of the "Ford Heights Four" will be a wake-up call to a nation slumbering in the false assumption that there is "justice for all" in our system.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 2, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A Promise of Justice offers us a close look at a miscarriage of justice by our legal system. Four innocent men sentenced to death, ramrodded by prosecuters eager for headlines and career boosting convictions. Fabricated evidence, perjured testimony, sloppy police work, and pressure brought by extensive media coverage all led to the convictions of the wrong men. Four innocent men who were robbed of 18 years of their lives by a system whose checks and balances were ignored by those in charge of protecting our rights.
Hard work by investigative journalists Rob Warden and David Protess, and Lawrence Marshall's law school class (Northwestern University) eventually led to the exoneration of these four men and detailed in this book. This book showed me a side of our legal system that is both frightening and interesting, a side involving personal pride and prejudices, where the pursuit of truth is secondary to conviction rate and headlines.
An involving read for anyone, pa! rticularly those interested in justice, the death penalty, or the workings of our legal system.
I highly recommend this book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Julian P Killingley on September 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have mixed feelings about this book. I am always looking out for clear accounts of miscarriages of justice to support one of my courses. Book reviews below suggested that A Promise of Justice might be just the thing.
The factual tale that Protess and Warden tell is a good one. It contains all the classic indications of a major miscarriage of justice. It is also a refreshing twist to find that justice is eventually achieved through the efforts of non-lawyers. On that basis it does make it onto my recommended reading list for my students - but only just.
My gripe with this book is that the authors do not make the best of their material. More than one reviewer has mentioned it in the same breath as Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action. That really is misleading - this book is simply not in the same league as that.
I see two problems with the way the authors tell their tale. First, they never forget they are journalists - and the book reads like a piece of journalism rather than an analytical account of a miscarriage of justice. It feels like something out of a newspaper supplement. Journalists can write excellent book-length accounts of miscarriage of justice cases - it is a pity that Protess and Warden did not copy Pete Earley's style in Circumstantial Evidence or John Tucker's style in May God Have Mercy.
The second problem is that Protess and Warden were participants in the events. I found their attempt to write an objective account of what they did, particularly their adoption of the third person rather than the first person voice, slightly jarred with me. I also found the frequent "cliff hanger" ends to chapters rather forced.
It is plain from other reviews on this site that this is not a problem for most readers.
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