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Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted [Hardcover]

Barry Scheck , Peter Neufeld


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Book Description

1 April 2000
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. -->

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; 1 edition (1 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038549341X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385493413
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.4 x 2.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 683,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Trapped in a wilderness of wrong places, Inmate 85A6097 howled, body and soul. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone MUST Read This Book 4 Mar 2000
By Jacqueline - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Everyone with a heart, brain, soul and/or conscience must read this book.
This book tells the stories of many men who were convicted unjustly. While I expected to learn of the stories of the men who were proven "actually innocent" by DNA, I didn't expect to find that in doing so it exposed many other injustices as well.
What I found was that while DNA was the catalyst, and the ultimate proof that set these men free - it did far more than that. It was because of the DNA evidence that the courts were forced to see that there are far more flaws the justice system than any of us would like to admit.
I found myself alternately fascinated and appalled throughout this book.
What truly amazed me was that "actual innocence" is not the be all and end all in the courts as it should be. I was floored that even though a person could be proven "actually innocent" via DNA, there were still hoops that lawyers had to leap through to obtain justice.
I would urge everyone who reads this book to take note to the suggestions peppered throughout and take action to make the changes necessary (whether it be on the state or federal level) to make sure that the guilty are punished, not the innocent.
For anyone who thinks that this book is for "bleeding-heart liberals", remember this - for every person unjustly imprisoned, and God forbid, sentenced to death - there is the very real probability that the real perpetrator is still out there.
I would urge EVERYONE to buy this book and learn from it.
I would really like to give this book a rating much higher that five (5) stars, as I believe it should serve as an educational experience for all of us.
Don't remain anonymous - buy this book, learn from it and act.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars COURAGEOUS! 5 April 2000
By William Reinhardt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What a shocking book about American justice! It seems that many of the things that minorities have been complaining about over the years are being undisputedly validated. If the current L.A. Police Department's probe into the Rampart Station rogue police officers making their own version of justice, or the New York Police Department's multiple shootings and/or maltreatment of unarmed minorities are not bad enough, then comes along this incredible book.
Written by Jim Dwyer in a journalistic style, the story is told in unremitting forthrightness. Even though the obvious intent is not to scream and yell, their passion for the truth shines through on every page, and the facts speak for themselves. The statistics are horrible.
It is typical American paradox, in a legal profession that purports to champion the causes of truth and justice, so many that are in positions of power will blatantly ignore, manipulate or fabricate these two ideals. That includes pandering politicians as well.
Just a simple two paragraph quote from the book will give you insight of the serious, damaging and outrageous facts that the authors elucidate: "In the United States, there are grave consewquences when an airplane falls from the sky; and automobile has a defective part; a patient is the victim of malpractice, a bad drug, or an erroneous lab report. Serious inquiries are made: What went wrong? Was it a systemic breakdown? An individual's mistake? Was there official misconduct? Can anything be done to correct the problem and prevent it from happening again?"
"In 1999, the Innocence Project (the authors) reconstructed sixty-two cases in the United States of the sixty-seven exonerations in North America to determine what factors had been prevalent in the wrongful convictions. Mistaken eyewitnesses were a factor in 84 percent of the convictions; snitches or informants in 21 percent; false confessions in 24 percent. Defense lawyers fell down on the job in 27 percent; prosecutorial misconduct played a part in 42 percent, and police misconduct in 50 percent. A third involved tainted or fraudulent science...."
The authors state that in the last twenty-five years, there have been 553 people executed in this country. In that same period, 80 condemned people have been released from death row. (That calculates for me to be a 12.6% error rate of the ones that the evidence could still be found to prove their innocence.) That arguement alone is substantial reason to stay any further executions.
This book is not just about the wrongful incarceration of innocent (mostly black) men on death row. It is a damming statement of the human condition of enough of our judges, prosecutors, police officers, defense lawyers, State & Federal Governmental officials, forensic experts, falacious (so-called) eyewitnesses, jailhouse snitches, and victims to cause serious concern.
And the arrogance of the Legal system, to deny complicity, admit error, or leave the door open for innocent men to avail themselves of irrefutable evidence. The depth of the abuses of the system exposed by this book are simply not acceptable in our American System of Law. How can we expect the lesser blessed in our American environment to improve themselves and believe in the system when those in power refuse to acknowledge the truth, and continue to abuse the system for there own aggrandizement?
Every American man and woman should read this book. It will explode many American myths we were taught. It may arouse you enough to become advocates of justice for all of us! For truth to prevail, we must look beyond campaign rhetoric and not allow politicians to hide behind the catch all rallying cry "Tough on Crime." We must vote yes for the necessary funding to follow the specific solutions suggested by the authors to insure that these abuses do not continue to happen at such a high rate. Don't forget: If it can happen to them; we could be next!
Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Jim Dwyer and the Innocence Project deserve our highest accolades, our gratitude, and our support for having the courage to bring these facts to the direct attention of the American public.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read for anyone concerned about Justice 14 Mar 2000
By Caz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I picked this title up on the weekend, and have been engrossed in it ever since. What the authors showcase reveals the appalling state of the judicial system in the USofA. From 'snitch' testimony being the backbone of a case - to the warped and twisted serologists who've framed numerous individuals with crimes they didn't commit, the contents of this writing will shake the reader to the core. If it doesn't... then you don't likely have a pulse. There's a grass-roots movement regarding crime and punishment - and well there should be, given what is reported in "Actual Innocence". The Law needs a shakedown, and the public needs to call for it. I highly recommend this intelligent and articulate presentation of a very controversial subject. As Sir William Hamilton once said, "The truth, like a torch, when it's shook it shines." Here's to the truth shining bright as day upon all the dark nooks and crannies of the American judicial system (and beyond!). Kudos to the authors, who've held their torch high and are shining a beacon across the land.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A call for a moratorium on the DP. 28 Jun 2000
By Christopher Cooper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A powerful, moving and well-written book. Away from all the moral problems with capital punishment, the Authors are able to focus on legal issues and statistics to show the problems of executing inmates. Many of the research for this book come from The Innocence Project and from the Federal Government, in the form of published reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In brief, this book provides a few stories and they explain how people in this country are wrongly convicted and how scientific evidence, specifically DNA Testing, can help prove their innocence.
The book also looks at other sources of problems within the judicial system - Prosecutorial/police misconduct, lazy defense counsels and death-biased juries.
This book provides the reader with an educated discussion on the problems of the death penalty. I highly recommend it to everyone and challenge the proponents of the death penalty to read this and look into their own souls to determine if this is a system we want to continue.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and frightening 5 April 2000
By Lisa Hayward - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Actual Innocence is a very well written, easy to read, and yet frightening book. It covers everyday people whose lives were torn apart by negligence, corruption, human error, and ignorance. Its intensity is driven by the knowledge that these are true stories. After reading the book, I attended a lecture by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld at a law school. Excellent as well! The frightening ascept is that wrongful imprisonment could happen to any one of us. There but for fortune go you or I.
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