Legal-thriller author John Grisham will speak at Oklahoma City University to help raise funds for a new OCU School of Law program to address wrongful convictions.
“An Evening with John Grisham: The Innocent Man and Wrongful Convictions in America,” begins at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Henry J. Freede Wellness and Activity Center at NW 27th Street and Florida Avenue.
Grisham’s 2006 nonfiction best-seller, The Innocent Man, detailed the convictions and subsequent DNA exonerations of two Oklahoma men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who were found guilty of the 1982 rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter, 21, of Ada.
Fritz, who wrote his own book, Journey Toward Justice, served almost 12 years of a life sentence. Williamson, now deceased, served time on death row, at one point coming within four days of execution.
In 2004 Glen Gore, a prosecution witness in the case, was convicted of killing Carter.
Lawrence Hellman, OCU law dean, said Grisham’s book brought the public’s attention to the fact that wrongful convictions happen in the United States more often than people would like to admit.
“We know of 18 such cases in Oklahoma and more than 240 nationally,” Hellman said. “Mr. Grisham’s appearance is dedicated to raising awareness about the disturbing frequency of such mistakes and to raise the funds necessary for law schools to train students how to minimize such mistakes in the future, and how to rectify those that have yet to be discovered.”
Students will prepare an extensive memo about a case, then discuss it with the project group to determine whether they should pursue it. If they do take a case, Hellman said, students will gain the experience of writing motions and briefs, conducting legal research and appearing in court. He said the project will include a classroom component, in which students learn about the legal documents and procedures necessary in such cases.
Grisham said the research and writing of The Innocent Man, which focuses mainly on Williamson, took 18 months.
“The journey also exposed me to the world of wrongful convictions, something that I, even as a former lawyer, had never spent much time thinking about,” Grisham said.
The problem is not unique to Oklahoma, the author said.
“Far from it,” he said. “Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same – bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors.”