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Framing Innocence: A Mother's Photographs, a Prosecutor's Zeal, and a Small Town's Response Hardcover – August 31, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1999 Cynthia Stewart, a mother, respected member of the community, and amateur photographer, was arrested and accused of child pornography, based on snapshots she took of her daughter in the shower. The fact that she had no intention of publishing or distributing the photos—and had no prior record for this kind of activity—did not dissuade the aggressive prosecutor. Powell, who lived in the same community and had a passing acquaintance with Stewart, chronicles in month-by-month detail Stewart’s battles to prove her innocence, and keep custody of her daughter. The story that unfolds is a fascinating cautionary tale of a criminal justice system both intent on finding criminals where none may exist and weighted against the poor and the powerless. Especially terrifying is the evidence Powell reveals that other moms, many single mothers, many in middle or lower incomes, have been similarly charged, and, in some cases, convicted for similarly innocent family photos. Powell is a facile writer, and her closeness to the material adds a subjective element to the story that makes it more immediate and compelling. --Jack Helbig

Review

"Thoroughly and fairly reported." --The Wall Street Journal

A "well-written, absorbing book." --The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Powell is a gifted writer, and her ability to convey the complex characters and emotions . . . raises Framing Innocence above other books of its kind. . . .  [An] intelligent, beautifully written book." --Chapter 16, Humanities Tennessee

A "gripping true story." --MORE magazine: Great Read, November 2010

"An unsettling story bound to grip readers with its own quest for justice, understanding, and truth."  --New York Journal of Books
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595585516
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595585516
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,024,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In depth coverage of a small town witch hunt of a mother accused of taking pornographic photographs of her daughter. The author has a personal connection to the accused mother and this allows the reader a full access to the plight and struggle of the family at the center of the prosecutors crosshairs.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best nonfiction books I've read in a while. Even though the story unfolds realistically, with complex people who make mistakes with the best intentions, it feels almost like a procedural, and I didn't want to put it down. It was fascinating to see how the people trying to defend the mother, do the best for the daughter, impose the law, protect the public, might see the same evidence so differently, and might even be the same people torn between different "right" responses.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book that should never have been written, because it details a prosecution that should never have been brought. Very briefly, Cynthia Stewart took photographs of her 8-year-old daughter washing herself in the bathtub and was prosecuted for obscenity.

I played a bit part in the drama -- having inadvertently inspired the title of the chapter "Rorschach" -- and I read the book not so much with interest as with growing consternation. For the first two-thirds or so, the book reads a bit like a novel, but then it unfortunately becomes anticlimactic, as you desperately want something dramatic to happen. Life is rarely like art, however, and the author was stuck with nasty facts. Very nasty facts.

The main character in the book is Cynthia Stewart, who is described as an aging hippie and who also appears both naïve and uncommonly stubborn (though some would call it principled). The best advice she got, which was unfortunately correct, was not to expect justice from justice system; she did not get it. Indeed, she and her family probably would have been bankrupted but for $40,000 in contributions.

The most interesting character in some ways is the guardian ad litem, the official appointed to look out for the interests of Stewart's daughter. This woman looked for all the world like a right-wing anti-pornography crusading lunatic, but her commitment to truth and fairness far exceeded her anti-pornography zeal: she took one look at the photographs and pronounced them perfectly innocent. She did everything she could to protect not only Stewart's daughter, but also Stewart herself.

The same cannot be said of the prosecutor, Greg White.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a wonderful account of how much the one prosecutor's discretion over an issue can change a family. Most citizens are not aware of how much discretion each county prosecutor has. The prosecutor decides what set of facts are presented to the grand jury and in what manner. This discretion changes lives in an instant. Please read this story to learn about this power and to enjoy a good book. I picked this book up at 10:00pm and put it down at 1:30 am. You will cheer for the little guys and feel like you can also make a difference in the world.
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Format: Hardcover
I was glad not to be familiar with the outcome of this case so I was in suspense during the entire read. It's a great story that will make you rant with the fervor of a true civil libertarian. The only thing that would have made satisfying would be if the prosecutor got his comeuppance, instead of being promoted by the Bush Administration.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
well written and quite a page turner. Our book group had a lively discussion about this book. Stirs up issues about legal system, community norms, art. How important community support of the family was in this case!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lynn Powell does a splendid job of describing the tragic prosecution of Cynthia Stewart on charges of child pornography. She shows how dogged prosecutors can jump to unwarranted conclusions, and how community support can help rescue an unfortunate defendant.

As she makes clear throughout the book, Powell is Stewart's friend and she was the treasurer of Stewart's defense committee. Those ties provided her with important insights into the case, and of course they provided her with important access to the defense team. If there is a weakness in the book, it is Powell's reluctance to criticize Stewart or to give much credit to the other side.

Thus, the book is unbalanced, but that is also part of its strength. We see the case almost -- but not quite -- through the defendant's eyes, which really drives home the disaster that can befall a family that has been wrongly accused. (Yes, Powell convinces me that Stewart was wrongly prosecuted, although I think there was more sincerity on the other side than she allows.)

Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
I read about this case years ago in the newspapers, so was interested in the subject and my local newspaper's enthusiastic review pushed me to buy it. Who knew someone could tell the story of a legal battle in such a gripping way? I really could not put the book down. And I thought the perspective Powell brought to the story as an insider was fascinating and brought an additional batch of questions to the table. Very well done.
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