Bestselling author John Grisham appeared at a special event on OCU’s campus on October 13 to help raise funds for a program at OCU LAW to address erroneous convictions.
"John Grisham’s novels have captivated millions," said Lawrence K. Hellman, dean of OCU LAW. "But his lone nonfiction work, ‘The Innocent Man,’ has brought to public attention the fact that erroneous convictions happen more often in America than we would like to admit. We know of 18 such cases in Oklahoma and more than 240 nationally. 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. His appearance promises to be a memorable event that will help us launch such a program at OCU LAW."
An Evening with John Grisham: "The Innocent Man" and Wrongful Convictions in America began at 7:30 p.m. at the Henry J. Freede Wellness and Activity Center on the OCU campus on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Grisham wrote the 2006 nonfiction blockbuster "The Innocent Man" about the erroneous conviction and ultimate exoneration of two Oklahoma men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. The book focuses on the story of Williamson, who spent more than a decade on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. In 1988, Williamson and Fritz were convicted of the 1982 rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter, then a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada, Oklahoma.
Williamson and Fritz were finally exonerated and freed when DNA testing established their innocence in 1999. Williamson died in 2004, while Fritz published his own personal account of the tragedy, "Journey Toward Justice." Another man, Glen Gore, was eventually convicted of Carter’s murder in 2004. Gore had been a key witness for the prosecution when Williamson and Fritz were wrongfully convicted.
"This story, and the research and writing of it, consumed eighteen months," said Grisham, author of numerous fictional bestsellers like "The Firm" and "A Time To Kill."
"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. "This is not a problem peculiar to Oklahoma, far from it. Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country…"