The Guardians by John Grisham - It is execution night in Alabama and Cullen Post has come to the prison to be with his client, Duke Russell. Post, an innocence lawyer, specializes in cases of those he believes were wrongfully convicted. They meet in the Death Room next to the Death Chamber. Post is confident his client will not die at midnight.
With the breezy confidence of an experienced litigator Post is right. A stay is issued. Post has saved a life.
He is convinced Mark Carter is the rapist killer of Emily Broone and is confident he has the evidence to prove Russell’s innocent. Getting a stay gains time but can Post convince a court of Russell’s innocence by showing Carter’s guilt.
Russell was convicted by a jury in Verona, Alabama. County prosecutor, Chad Falwright, relied on a pair of expert witnesses.
First, a retired dentist from Wyoming, who makes his career of testifying for the State concluded some “nicks” on Broone’s arms were teeth marks made by Russell.
Second, an “expert” from the state crime lab testified some pubic hairs found on Broone’s body came from Russell.
$3,000 of state money was wasted on Russell’s trial counsel, an alcoholic lawyer soon to be disbarred.
Post derisively calls the state experts as experts only in “junk science”.
Aiding Post and Gourley is Francois “Frankie” Tatum who Post freed from a wrongful murder conviction.
Post is drawn to a new case. Quincy Miller has spent 22 years in jail convicted of killing a lawyer in Seabrook, Florida. (I always have a bit of a shiver when the victim is a lawyer.)
The evidence is deeply flawed. An eyewitness implausibly states she saw a man like Miller in the vicinity. An embittered wife claims Miller had a shotgun and an incriminating flashlight. An expert for hire with a scarcity of credentials has testified about blood spatter and confidently identified spots on a flashlight as blood based on photos. Lastly a jailhouse snitch asserts a confession.
In this book and The Whistler Grisham portrays northern central Florida as a dark, dangerous and corrupt land with public officials ruling their fiefdoms.
As I read about the evidence I could see the challenge in mounting a successful appeal. Unless at some witnesses recanted their evidence the jury could have accepted even their unlikely statements. The expert can be shredded but there was enough other evidence for conviction. Complicating their efforts, the flashlight went missing before the trial in a fire that destroyed the shed where County evidence was stored. A jailhouse snitch’s reliability is readily challenged but he was never a crucial witness.
Post and the other Guardians seek out the witnesses of the State to see if they regret the evidence given at trial. They have no coercive powers. They can only hope that decades of guilt over false testimony will induce them to now tell the truth. The power of guilt is amazing.
Unlike some fictional stories of wrongful conviction there are no miraculous discoveries of evidence. There are no Perry Mason moments of public admission of guilt by the real killer. It is hard draining work over years that wins an exoneration.
It struck me how many books, including several in the Harry Bosch series, were the police review cold cases to find a killer and how few books there about dedicated defenders delving deep to prove wrongful conviction. I expect part of the reason is that real life police departments have budgets to close cold cases. No public money is available to re-examine cases where someone is long convicted. Only the fortunate few convicted are able to find a lawyer with the time, commitment and personal resources to fund such a quest get a chance at freedom.
Post outlines his unique circumstances to an FBI agent:
“We’re in the same business, sort of. You solve crimes to lock people up. I solbe crimes to get people out.”
Grisham’s story involves one of the most challenging plots. As Post digs into the trial a conspiracy is exposed. Appropriately shadowy and maelovent …...
Representatives of the bad guys slip into sight in a clever courtroom scene. And the conspiracy gradually becomes clear. Unlike many a crime fiction conspiracy it is an all too credible scheme. As the unraveling of the conspiracy picks up I raced through the last third of the book.
After reading Grisham books in which lawyers were unable to save clients from execution I was glad to read a Grisham book where there was exoneration.
My previous post was about Cullen Post - http://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2019/12/cullen-post-in-guardians.html