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Innocent Man to follow the twisted path that led Chris Mumma to pick up Grimes' file, ultimately exposing the use of outdated photos to mis-identify the perpetrator, the failure to fingerprint relevant parts of the crime scene, exculpatory evidence destroyed, contorted "science"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.
...a captivating, intimate profile of one man’s stubbornly persistent efforts to convince others of his innocence ... Rachlin is a skilled storyteller, but what’s not sufficiently clear is why he chose to tell this particular story. Over the past 28 years and as of this writing, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been 2,102 people whom the courts or government officials have found to be wrongfully convicted...Grimes’s conviction, in the end, appears to have been the result of sloppy and lazy police work, and as a reader I’m not sure what to take away from this ... Where Rachlin fully succeeds is in his rich, intimate portrait of Grimes, who is isolated and alone, whose soul is cracking...Amazingly, he came out as dignified a man as when he went in. It’s in these chapters that this story becomes remarkable. That, I suppose, is reason enough to tell this tale.
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.
One of the most powerful aspects of Ghost is its portrait of time behind bars — the transfers, delays and letter-writing campaigns that form the scaffolding of lives in limbo ... It takes Rachlin 344 pages to bring Mumma together with Grimes, and at times Ghost meanders into tangents. There are moments of clichéd overwriting...But these missteps are redeemed by the sheer weight of information amassed. A story so important and infuriating it is hard to look away.
Grimes may not have been a plasterboard saint — he was once arrested for drunken driving — but those who knew him characterized him as a shy, gentle man who respected women. His conviction and imprisonment left him shattered. Rachlin vividly describes the anguish that would well up in Grimes again and again during his 24 years behind bars … Rachlin alternates chapters on Grimes’s plight with ones on outsiders’ pursuit of a novel idea: There ought to be a way to reopen old cases and exonerate the wrongfully convicted. It’s worth noting that some of the activists pressing this reform had been crime victims whose mistaken identifications sent innocent people to prison … In Rachlin’s skilled hands, Grimes’s story triggers indignation but also confers solace, Grimes being one of the solacing features. He bears no grudges.
An absorbing story ... In his moving first book, Rachlin, with confidence and care, relays both the terrifying personal costs and complex legalities, so dependent on fallible humans, of wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
Rachlin combines a gripping legal drama with a penetrating exposé of the shoddy investigative and trial standards nationwide, as evidenced by hundreds of postconviction exonerations. Finally, as Grimes moves beyond anger and despair over his plight, Rachlin’s narrative offers a moving evocation of faith under duress.
...a chilling story ... Rachlin builds to this cinematic conclusion with empathetic, thorough (if sometimes gradually paced) prose and solid investigative detail. A sprawling, powerful, unsettling longitudinal account of an overdue legal movement.