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For certain segments of society, due process is dead.
on November 5, 2014
This is a story of America's huge but little-covered rural drug war. It's the story of one nation's criminal justice system, its biases, and the convolution that keeps most poor defendants from the slightest hope of due process.
It is also one of the most engaging books I have ever opened.
My sole complaint is that the author ignores Associated Press style where, in my mind, he shouldn't (as a copy editor, I cringed every time "over" appeared in place of "more than" - often multiple times per page). But of all I've ever read more rigorous in grammatical style, I can think of precious little to compete with this volume for deep reporting or genuine importance. Or, for that matter, for the ability to make me laugh out loud even in the face of systematic debasement.
I recommend this book unequivocally. Everyone should read it.
***WARNING!!! SPOILERS BELOW!!! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK***
The truth is, it's unusual as a true story only for the in-depth coverage it has received (particularly in this book, a stellar piece of reporting) and the fact that it has a happier ending than most.
It's the story of a cop who lied to make a name for himself. Of a church-leader-cum-sheriff who covered up for him. Of a drunk-driving DA who made his career prosecuting DWIs, who withheld critical evidence from the defense and then lied about it in open court. Of a judge, once an idealistic defense attorney, who stacked the deck against a fair trial. Of great men like Paul Holloway, a court-appointed defender with enough faith in the system to do his job on a level usually reserved for television attorneys - enough faith, that is, to be broken when the system proved too corrupt to care. Of Freddie Brookins Sr., who told his son it was wrong to lie: If he was innocent, he shouldn't take a deal. (Consequently, Freddie Jr. was sentenced to 20 in years prison.) Of Gary Gardner, a diabetic farmer self-taught in the law, an old-timer who considered the n-word normal parlance but who spent thousands of dollars and countless hours fighting for the rights of wrongly convicted African-Americans.
It is the story, ultimately, of dozens of men and women convicted based on demonstrable lies. Of human beings sent to prison with sentences that ranged to 361 years. Of two defendants who remained in prison until 2011, despite the fact that the case against them was proven, in court, to be nonsense in 2003.