During the last two decades, more than two thousand American citizens have been wrongfully convicted. Ghost of the Innocent Man brings us one of the most dramatic of those cases and provides a picture of the national scourge of wrongful conviction and of the opportunity for meaningful reform.
A crisply written page turner ... Deploying the same precision with which he documents Grimes' prison life, Rachlin recounts the arduous and complex work to move the wheels of justice. 19 years after Grimes' arrest, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill to establish an Innocence Inquiry Commission; Chris Mumma's fingerprints were all over it. Read Rachlin's Ghost of the Innocent Man to follow the twisted path that led Chris Mumma to pick up Grimes' file, ultimately exposing the use of outdated photos to mis-identify the perpetrator, the failure to fingerprint relevant parts of the crime scene, exculpatory evidence destroyed, contorted "science" involving a single hair, and more. But don't read for the gripping story alone. Willie Grimes spent 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, while the real perpetrator continued to offend. Shouldn't we be better than this?
Ghost of the Innocent Man reads like an inverted police procedural, where the criminal conviction comes first, before the detectives discover the facts and where justice arrives only at the end — long delayed and therefore, in an important sense, forever denied. Willie Grimes, convicted on flimsy evidence for a rape he did not commit, gives the victims of our overconfident and needlessly punitive criminal justice system a human face ... offers a hopeful story of bipartisan support for the Innocence Inquiry Commission and its mission to correct wrongful convictions. It also chronicles the skepticism and resistance of some prosecutors, judges and victims’ rights advocates ... By showing us that the specter of wrongful convictions involves flesh and blood human beings, Ghost of the Innocent Man confronts us with the cruelest injustices of the criminal justice system, even as it also holds out hope for a more humane future.
This book is a fine piece of investigative journalism, but don’t get your hopes up for a true-crime read. Nothing about Grimes’ arrest was true; nothing about his trial and conviction were true. That’s the book’s point: Wrong convictions happen ... At times, the momentum of Rachlin’s otherwise compelling storytelling bogs down with inordinate detailing and reads a little too much like tedious courtroom transcripts. His realistic picture of Grimes’ tormenting prison years is intriguing until mundane minutiae overburdens the narrative ... By its end, Ghost of the Innocent Man becomes a gripping legal-thriller mystery ... This empathetic book tells the story of the beginnings of the movement to right a national crisis of wrongful convictions — and of one of its first victories.