Tag: Crime

The Ghost of The Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin

March 20th, 2018 — 5:46pm

Ghost Of The Innocent Man: A True Story Of Trial And Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin.

Somewhat by coincidence, this non-fiction book continues the theme of An American Marriage, which was the previous book which I recently read and reviewed in this blog. That book was a fictionalized account of a man who was wrongly in prison for a crime that he did not commit and how that impacted himself and his young wife.

This book is a true story of the ultimate development of a remarkable Innocence Inquiry Project in North Carolina. It also follows the story of Willie Grimes, a young innocent man who was accused and convicted of raping a 65-year-old woman and spent 20 years in prison. The author of this book was not an attorney but rather was a writer who undertook this writing project when he was 26 years old. He traced the birth of the Innocence Project, which started at the University of North Carolina and Duke University Law School and then coalesced over a few years into a state sanctioned Innocence Commission that provided an official process for examining the case of convicted prisoners who may have completely exhausted their appeals process and could still have a pathway to having their cases reexamined.

The author told the story of young attorneys who became involved in this project while also working with smart idealistic law students, as they became the last resort for prisoners who may have been totally innocent. The author’s study did interview the various founders and pioneers of this project and told in great detail the trials and tribulations of getting it off the ground. The very interesting story of the birth of this project was interspersed with the equally remarkable story of Mr. Grimes’ voyage through the judicial system and his experience in numerous prisons in North Carolina over the years. The author related in exquisite detail Mr. Grimes’ interactions with various cellmates, prison guards, doctors, as well as his visits to Jehovah Witness people who became very important to him. In fact, my biggest criticism of this book was the repetitive recounting of every interaction that poor Mr. Grimes had in prison. The author literally seemed to reveal “every detail” and report from Mr. Grimes’ case manager in prison, every unremarkable note by nurses, psychologists, guards, every comment, and minor infarction while in prison as well as many repetitive thoughts that Mr. Grimes may have had.

The author also provided the details of seemingly every letter or communication between the client and his various lawyers and between various people in the Innocence Project that were trying to help him and develop their program. Yes, this approach conveyed the tedious life that Mr. Grimes had in prison and the tremendous attention to detail of those who were trying to help him had to go through, I got that point! However, I felt that this was way overdone and made the reader spend much more time than needed in order to get it.

It was quite fascinating to come to understand some of the complications of doing hair analysis analysis, and even potential DNA analysis although Mr. Grimes’ trial predated the sophisticated DNA techniques that are used today. The reader also learned about the importance of saving evidence from the crime scene and how this may or may not always be done. However once again, these points in my opinion were way too much repetitive.

There was one question that was always on my mind and never answered in the book. Early on when Mr. Grimes was arrested, he claimed he was innocent and offered to take a lie detector test. This request was never followed up by the police or by his own attorney. I understand that such tests are not foolproof, but could not such a test, if it had supported his claim, have helped him in his appeal?

There came a time during his incarceration where Mr. Grimes could have found a pathway to change his life sentence by being paroled, if he took a special course for sexual offenders but as part of that process, it would have required him to apologize and ask for forgiveness for his “crime.” He refused to do this as he always contended his innocence. In the end, after more than 20 years in prison, as the reader suspected throughout the book, the Innocence Project was successful in allowing Mr. Grimes to be judged to be innocent and gain his freedom.

However, the book does leave us with the awareness that such innocence projects do not readily exist throughout the country and there are only a few * like this one, which leaves the reader with the awareness how there is a serious defect in our criminal justice system that needs to be addressed.

  • There is a  large well known DNA project and there are smaller projects throughout the country  such as the one in Alabama which was written about in a book titled Just Mercy  which was also  reviewed in this blog  :

Please leave any comments below


To purchase a copy of this book from Amazon, please click here



Comment » | HI - History, P - Political

Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America by Jill Leovy

October 10th, 2017 — 8:26pm

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

This is a very sad book. It is a story of homicide in the so-called Ghetto area of Los Angeles. Most of the victims and perpetrators are young black men and boys. Not surprisingly, these murders are often gang related, sometimes revenge for previous murder or because somebody is believed to be a “snitch”. Other times the victim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of these murders don’t even get mentioned in the newspapers or on TV. It’s not unusual for there to be a couple of murders per night in each police district. These crimes may occur in a family where there is a tradition of crime and violence. But on the other hand, sometimes the victim is a high school kid who seemed to be on verge of breaking out of this cycle of crime. Countless families become devastated by this epidemic of murder as the author skillfully and vividly described in so many cases. At times the reader just wants to say, “Enough!” as it it is quite painful to read this book.

The book is also about the Los Angeles homicide detectives and their dedication and professionalism. We see countless examples of how these detectives deal with the horror and indescribable painful situations that they have to view every day. We see their patience and empathy as they speak to family members of murder victims and often making a death notification. This reader was blown away by their ability to do this type of work on a day-to-day basis and treat each murder with care and individuality. We follow some very skillful, dedicated detectives who do their jobs with great respect for the victims and their families.

The juxtaposition of getting insight into the impact of these murders on the families and the professionalism and dedication of the police homicide detectives was quite interesting. However, nothing was more dramatic and eye-opening then when one of the homicide detectives’ sons was murdered and we follow another detective as he applies his intellectual and emotional skills to follow and solve this case through the court room and final verdict. It was clear that this LAPD homicide detective did his best to bring justice to this case in the same manner that he handled all his other cases.

This book really gives a wonderful window and insight to how the police, despite difficult circumstances and at times limited resources, do a job about which they and all of us should be very proud. Reading this book is as engrossing as any TV show about crime and it probably brings the reader closer to the real thing than any movie or novel could do. It is all true and happening every day in Los Angeles and in many other cities throughout the country

To purchase this book from Amazon please click here 

Comment » | Social

Whitey Bulger: American’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

March 30th, 2013 — 11:56pm

Whitey BulgerWhitey Bulger: American’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

As I write this book review, Whitey Bulger sits in jail after being on the run for than 15 years before he was captured with his girlfriend in Santa Monica, California where they had been living under assumed false names. Whitey is scheduled for trial in June of this year (2013) in Boston where he is accused of committing numerous murders plus other crimes which took place over more than fifty years. The statue of limitations is 20 years for all crimes except murder.  Even now prior to this long anticipated trial  there are numerous legal maneuvers taking place, the latest being the replacement of a federal judge who was ordered to step down from the trail because he was  federal prosecutor in Boston in the 1980s at the time Bulger was working as an FBI informant while allegedly committing crimes including murder.

This book which is written by two award winning   Boston Globe crime reporters who have researched book in great detail which is documented at the end of their work. The references include various books and articles as well as interviews with many  of criminals who were at one time confederates of  Bulger, federal and local law officers, as well as an assortment of other people whose paths crossed with Whitey Bulger.

There is no doubt that this man is one of most remarkable criminals of our time and yet on the other hand is a typical product of the south side of Boston for his generation. Not that most of the young men who grew up there at that time became criminals. Whitey’s own brother Bill Bulger became one of the most prominent and popular members of the Massachusetts state legislature. Others of the kids in his neighborhood became lawyers judges, doctors businessmen etc. Perhaps what characterized them was being children of immigrants (in this case Irish  whereas in other nearby locales it was Italian), poverty, hard working parents, competitiveness, being a street fighter when necessary and usually intense loyalty to one’s buddies. Why some kids would choose a life of crime, drugs or drug dealing, be gamblers, or run protection schemes and shakedowns is a complicated questions and even this insightful book couldn’t really figure it out. What is clear, is that Whitey Bulger grew up as very smart tough guy and served honorably in the US military, became up a budding criminal  and as a young man spent a lot of time  in federal prisons including Alcatraz. An interesting sidelight of his early years of incarceration in the 1950s and 60s, is that while in prison he volunteered, in exchange for some time off his sentence, to be subject in the infamous government sponsored research about LSD. He had no way of knowing about the resultant persistent hallucinations and periodic paranoia that he would have for several years before they faded into the background. This is not to suggest that LSD was responsible for his subsequent life of crime but it is an early  example of how his life became greatly impacted by the federal government.

Upon his release from federal detention after serving a substantial number of years, still in his 30s perhaps with some intention of going straight, he soon became very involved with the crime and the gangster world of the Irish gangs vs the Italian (Mafia ) gangs. He became enmeshed  in a life of crime which mostly included bank robberies, shakedowns and protection for the gamblers and drug dealers, as well as an occasional murder of another bad guy who from his point of view clearly deserved this fate. During the course of this life style he made the acquaintance of some FBI guys – one in particular who were interested in using him as an informant as was a common practice of the G-Men.  Whitey got drawn into this role along with one of his partners in crime , although they didn’t  take money for passing on information particularly info about their competitors in the Mafia. His relationship with the FBI is probably the most revealing aspect of this book and an area which has already been a fascinating subject for students of this era and are sure to be a focal point of the upcoming trial of Bulger. Some of the FBI agents grew up in the same home territory as Bulger. They themselves were seemingly fascinated and intrigued by the underworld of crime which they interacted with as they extracted information from their informers which allowed them to eliminate many of the leading criminals of that time. At least one of Whitey’s FBI handlers received great honors and commendations from his higher up in the FBI. Whitey on the other hand was often tipped off in ways that protected him from being caught and which also identified other criminals who were working against him . This led to Whitey having to eliminate some of them.  It seemed pretty clear that these FBI people knew of Whitey’s high crimes including many murders which on occasion even accidentally murdered the wrong person and at least two times killed  women for various reasons. Now that Whitey Bulger is coming up for trial and a new generation of agents and prosecutors appear ready to ask for whatever justice is possible for society and the families of these murdered victims, what will this now 83 year old man reveal about his life of crime and his relationship  with the FBI ?

The authors have done a very good job in documenting this man’s life and his relationships. At times,  I thought they overdid descriptions of his everyday mundane life in the name of being as complete as they could. Of course they were writing in the third person and they could only imagine his inner thoughts and feelings, based on all their sources which included people quoting Whitey and telling and even a few of his writings and letters. As interesting as the story and the life of this man is, I did not have any certainty that they really got inside of his head. I could not help compare this book to another story of a gangster criminal that I recently read, “I Heard You Paint Houses” which is the story of the man who says he killed Jimmy Hoffa and describes the details in a very believable fashion. That book was written by Charles Brandt, a former prosecutor based on interviews and the cooperation of the subject, another Irishman Frank Sheeran who was very close although not a full fledged member of the Mafia. It felt 100% genuine. Nevertheless the Bulger story is unique enough and one that is known to most Bostonians and should be known by anyone fascinated by crime in America. This is especially true  as the trial goes on  which is scheduled to take place June . It  will be certainly in all the  newspapers and featured on all those news magazine tv shows, and this book  will allow you to have a deeper understanding of one the most important criminals cases of the last century as it comes to it’s final conclusion.

Comment » | B - Biography

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