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Actual Innocence

Written by Barry ScheckAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Barry Scheck, Peter NeufeldAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Peter Neufeld and Jim DwyerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jim Dwyer
Read by Michael BoatmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michael Boatman

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Read by Michael Boatman
On Sale: July 05, 2000
ISBN: 978-0-553-75224-3
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Extraordinarily powerful stories of ordinary people locked up for crimes they did not commit, and how they were freed against great odds.

A nightmare from a thousand B-movies: a horrible crime is committed in your neighborhood, and the police knock at your door. A witness swears you are the perpetrator; you have no alibi, and no one believes your protestations of innocence. You're convicted, sentenced to hard time in maximum security, or even death row, where you await the executioner's needle.

Tragically, this is no movie script but reality for hundreds of American citizens. Our criminal justice system is broken, and people from all walks of life have been destroyed by its failures. But science and a group of incredibly dedicated crusaders are working to repair the damage.

In the last ten years, DNA testing has uncovered stone-cold proof that sixty-five completely innocent people have been sent to prison and death row. But even in cases where there is physical evidence, the criminal justice system frees prisoners only after a torturous legal process. Incredibly, according to many trial judges, "actual innocence" is not grounds for release from prison.

At the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld have helped to free thirty-seven wrongly convicted people, and have taken up the cause of hundreds more. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Dwyer has been covering innocence cases for a decade. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer relate the harrowing stories of ten innocent men--convicted by sloppy police work, corrupt prosecutors, jailhouse snitches, mistaken eyewitnesses, and other all-too-common flaws of the trial system--and tell of the heroic efforts to free them.

Intense, startling, and utterly compelling, Actual Innocence is a passionate and fascinating journey through the looking glass of the American criminal justice system.


Tragically, this is no movie script but reality for hundreds of American citizens. Our criminal justice system is broken, and people from all walks of life have been destroyed by its failures. But science and a group of incredibly dedicated lawyers are working to repair the damage.

In the last decade of this century, DNA testing has uncovered stone-cold proof that fifty-five completely innocent people were sent to prison and death row. At the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld have managed to free forty-three wrongly convicted people and have taken up the cause of two hundred more. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Jim Dwyer covered this courthouse revolution from its very first days. In Actual Innocence, Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer relate the harrowing stories of ten of these individuals--convicted by sloppy police work, corrupt prosecutors, jailhouse snitches, mistaken witnesses, inept lawyers, and other all-too-common flaws in the trial system--and tell of the heroic efforts to free them.

Intense, harrowing, and compelling, Actual Innocence is a passionate argument for sanity in our courtrooms and a fascinating journey through the looking glass of the American criminal justice system. -->


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

An Innocence Project

Trapped in a wilderness of wrong places, Inmate 85A6097 howled, body and soul. His skin erupted. His teeth rotted. His feet grew warts too big for his shoes. His lungs flooded with pneumonia. His scalp dried to sand, his hemorrhoids burned so hot that only a surgeon's knife could cool them. He was often cranky and defiant with the prison staff, so whatever time he did not pass at sick call or in a hospital usually was spent in a disciplinary program.

Marion Coakley had been a young man when he entered prison to serve a fifteen-year sentence for rape, and everyone who met him agreed that he was a simple soul and a difficult convict. "Marion is mentally retarded and a very angry individual," wrote a prison psychologist, one of many to use those words after meeting Coakley. "He has little insight into his behavior." The one bright note in his record was sounded by a prison teacher, who said that even though Marion understood little, he tried hard. She awarded him a certificate of merit for successfully memorizing the multiplication tables from zero to nine. He was thirty-two years old.

At ten minutes to five on September 3, 1987, Marion rose from the cafeteria table in the Fishkill penitentiary where he had been resolutely chewing every last bite. He was alone. Moments before, his unit had been ordered to leave the dining area. It was two years to the week since he had arrived in prison, and he certainly knew the rules required him to leave the table promptly when ordered. But Marion continued munching until he was good and ready.

He pushed back his chair and strolled over to a trash can to dump his tray. At the doorway, Corrections Officer T. Hodge waited.

"When the unit officer calls your unit to leave the mess hall, you have to leave," said Hodge.

"I wasn't finished," said Coakley.

"Doesn't matter, you had your time to eat," said Hodge. "When you're called, you're supposed to leave."

"I'm a man," roared Coakley. "I'll leave when I am done eating. And nobody's gonna tell me what to do!"

A supervisor, a corrections sergeant, walked over to serve as a human blanket on the fuss. The inmates ate in shifts, and a new cohort was waiting at the doors. The officers wanted to move Coakley out of the way quickly and quietly, before any sympathetic rumble could gather force.

"I ain't gonna leave till I'm finished," yelled Coakley, whirling his arms. "Now I'm finished, so I'm leaving."

"Please keep your arms at your side," said the sergeant.

"I ain't doing nothing, finishing my dinner," said Coakley, palms up, a shrug that did not mean surrender.

"This is a direct order: Keep your arms at your side," said the sergeant. Coakley dropped his arms.

"Give me your ID card," said Officer Hodge.

"Don't have it," said Coakley, an automatic infraction.

Another sergeant arrived, and the three officers quickly pinioned Coakley's arms to his side and rushed him away. He was put under immediate "keep-lock," an on-the-spot discipline administered to prisoners who pose threats to the order of the institution. He was confined to Cell 20.

As soon as the door closed behind the guards, Marion knew what he was facing, because already he had passed four months under keep-lock and related disciplines. He would lose his commissary privileges, his phone call privileges, and his package privileges. Visitors, too, most likely. He would not be allowed to leave his cell for much of the day because he would have no prison job to go to.

"This ain't right," he screamed. "This ain't right."

Then he did to his cell what his body had done to him during his two years of confinement. He slowly, solitarily wrecked the place.

The bedding was first to go. He hated the bed that owned too much of his nights and days. "I do not like to laying up doing noetin," he had written a few months earlier, asking to be released from an earlier keep-lock regimen. Now he hurled the mattress and blanket to the floor. He slammed the bed frame into the door, pounding away until it fractured. With a bar broken from the bed, he pulverized the sink. And with anything he could grab--paper, pillowcases, clothes--he stuffed the toilet bowl, where he had bled from his tortured hemorrhoids.

A small group of corrections officers gathered outside the cell, listening to the destruction. They saw water flowing under the door from the clogged toilet and busted plumbing. When the racket had settled for a minute, one of the guards shouted at Coakley to knock it off.

Marion responded by using the bed frame to batter the metal screen of the observation window in the door. The window screen buckled at the assault; then the glass shattered, flying into the courtyard of the cell block. "I want to see the warden," howled Coakley. "I don't belong here."

Spent, he collapsed in the flooded cell. Three hours after the start of his one-man, one-cell rampage, he was coaxed out by a prison chaplain. Marion was escorted to an empty cell, where he whistled and shrieked into the block. No one could sleep. The next morning, a prison psychiatrist was called to assess the inmate. A man could lose it one night, but Marion Coakley's overall record was dreadful. From the day he shuffled his manacled feet into the prison system's reception center, Coakley showed "persistently negative adjustment" and had "performed less than satisfactorily in work placement." He refused to "accept staff direction," and showed "limited intelligence, little insight into his problems and current dilemma." He had been kept on antipsychotic medicine. The measure of its futility could be seen in the remains of Cell 20.

Less than twenty-four hours after Marion Coakley destroyed a very sturdy cell with his bare hands, the psychiatrist with the Department of Corrections concluded, unsurprisingly, that Marion Coakley remained an angry man. The Fishkill psychiatrist had the solution: Make him another prison's problem. "Psychiatrist recommended immediate placement in a more structured and secure environment," stated an evaluation written by the staff after the night of destruction. "Subject transferred at direction of the first deputy superintendent."


From the Hardcover edition.
Barry Scheck|Peter Neufeld|Jim Dwyer|Michael Boatman

About Barry Scheck

Barry Scheck - Actual Innocence
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded and direct the Innocence Project, which currently represents more than two hundred inmates seeking post-conviction release through DNA testing. Perhaps the most prominent civil rights lawyers in America, Scheck and Neufeld represent the family of Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, and the four black and latino youths wrongfully shot by NY State Troopers. They are both in private practice in New York City.

Jim Dwyer is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News. Recently, his exclusive reports on a New Jersey Turnpike shooting prompted a special grand jury investigation of racial profiling by state troopers. He lives in New York City.

About Peter Neufeld

Peter Neufeld - Actual Innocence
Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer are among the United States’ leading experts on innocence issues. Scheck and Neufeld founded and direct the Innocence Project, which seeks postconviction release through DNA testing. Perhaps the most prominent civil rights attorneys in the country, both are in private practice in New York City. Dwyer, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News, began inquiring into wrongful convictions in 1992. He is also the author of Subway Lives: 24 Hours in the Life of the New York City Subway, and co-author of Two Seconds Under the World, an account of the World Trade Center bombing.

About Jim Dwyer

Jim Dwyer - Actual Innocence
Jim Dwyer is a Pulitzer Prize--winning reporter who writes the "About New York" column for The New York Times. He has written or co-written six books, including 102 Minutes, which spent twelve weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He lives in New York City.

About Michael Boatman

Michael Boatman - Actual Innocence
Michael Boatman is a versatile tv, film, and stage actor, whose work on the hit TV show Spin City garnered him a GLAAD award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, and nominations for two N.A.A.C.P. IMAGE Awards. For his work playing Stanley Babson on the long-running HBO series ARLI$$, he was nominated five times for the IMAGE Award for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy series.
Praise

Praise

"Actual Innocence is a gut-wrenching, terrifying, hair-raising account of how fatally wrong things can go inside the American criminal justice system. But it's also--thank God--a chronicle of redemption, of how science and a group of dedicated individuals have exposed those wrongs."
--Jonathan Harr, Author of A Civil Action

"Actual Innocence is a powerful and illuminating look into the obscene quagmire of American criminal prosecutions. DNA has at last provided the key to the jailhouse door for a veritable host of innocent victims of this system. The book is a great service to justice."
--Arthur Miller

"Actual Innocence is a real-life legal thriller, the harrowing account of ten innocent men wrongfully convicted by a justice system that too often just doesn't work. Well written and well researched, this book is like a clarion call alerting us to how easily corruption, prejudice, laziness, and flat-out stupidity can cause tragic errors--and how difficult those errors are to correct. This may be the most important book on American criminal justice in a decade."
--William Bernhardt, author of Dark Justice

"Actual Innocence is a remarkably compelling book. Using real-life stories more horrifyingly gripping than any fiction, the authors make clear the deep flaws in our criminal justice system, and the positive difference that is being made by DNA identification methods whose use [Scheck and Neufeld] pioneered. Telling their tale clearly and without fanfare, they let the human drama speak for itself. I couldn't put Actual Innocence down; it's a book everyone should read."
--Philip Friedman, author of No Higher Law


From the Hardcover edition.

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