Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger are co-editors of Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted (available March 28, 2017), which pairs genre luminaries such as Lee Child, Sara Paretsky, Laurie R. King, Jan Burke, and S. J. Rozan with exonerated inmates to illuminate the realities of wrongful conviction.
Recently, Ms. Caldwell and Mr. Klinger generously agreed to answer some questions about their collaborative process and the intent behind Anatomy of Innocence.
What was the genesis for Anatomy of Innocence, and how do you hope that it might inform people’s opinions of the criminal justice system?
Klinger: The book arose out of Laura’s experiences creating the organization Life After Innocence. Laura became aware that there were dozens of heartbreaking and yet resilient stories to be shared by her clients and colleagues. These were stories that could change people’s responses to the problem of the inefficiency of the justice system from a study of statistics to an understanding of personal experience.
How did you go about enlisting authors for this project, and in what way were the pairings of writers/exonerated inmates decided?
Caldwell: Enlisting the authors was the easiest part. Les and I are both fortunate enough to know some of the top mystery and thriller authors in the world, and once they heard the concept they were eager to participate. The goal was to have great storytellers write pieces about the stages of a wrongful conviction, from accusation to arrest to imprisonment to freedom. We had such luminaries as Lee Child, Sara Paretsky, Laurie R. King, and others give of their talents, but there wasn’t a diva in the bunch. And although we told them to focus on only a slice of an exoneree’s experience, most of the authors did an enormous amount of research. They wanted to know everything about the person, their life, and the case that changed it for them.
We paired authors with exonerees based on a few factors, such as their interests, the type of writing they do, and who we thought would work well together. In the case of Lee Child—whom we paired with Kirk Bloodsworth, the first to be exonerated from death row by DNA—we put them together because Kirk is a real-life Jack Reacher (tall, handsome, former military), and also because I just knew they’d like each other—and they did. We put John Mankiewicz, who is one of the writers of House of Cards, with Jerry Miller because we wanted to tell the story of Jerry’s exoneration day and how he was whisked from one press conference to another—a very surreal, House of Cards kind of experience.
The contributing authors are mostly known for their fiction. What unique qualities did this bring to the telling of hard truths?
Klinger: First, as writers, they have a highly developed skill of sifting the wheat from the chaff—they all have that sense of what elements to emphasize and what to leave out in making a compelling story. Second, every one of our chosen writers has previously written powerful, unflinching books that deal with ugliness, pain, and sorrow—a talent that would be essential for the stories they would hear. Finally, they all have refined social consciences—they cared deeply about the subject and grew to care deeply about their exoneree partners.
There are deeply varying experiences of wrongful conviction chronicled within this collection. What do the stories represent collectively, and how do the introductions from Scott Turow and Barry Scheck illuminate these realities through the lens of their professional knowledge and experiences?
Caldwell: Collectively, the stories depict an archetypal exoneree’s experience. Individually, each story is uniquely harrowing, painful, and captivating, as each individual and his or her family are as different as the crimes committed and the victims harmed. We wanted to show how different people from different parts of the country, different races and ethnic backgrounds, different levels of education, different ages, could all share the same horror. Without this perspective, or by focusing on an individual story, we felt it would be too easy to dismiss wrongful convictions as insignificant statistics—“it can’t happen to me.”
The participation of Scott Turow and Barry Scheck was an early milestone in putting this book together. Both are brilliant communicators and passionate advocates of justice. Both bring rich and varied depths of experience to the issue of wrongful conviction and its devastation. Barry and his partner Peter Neufeld, along with a few other advocates, birthed the innocence movement into existence. They have changed countless lives and, in doing so, changed all our worlds. Barry personally represented some of the exonerees in this book. He is also a voracious reader of everything from thrillers to textbooks, so to have his reflections on this collection was invaluable.
Scott Turow is not only a literary genius, he is a fearless advocate of the truth. Although he came from a prosecutorial background in his legal work, he refused to put blinders on when he saw injustice, like cops lying on the stand. He is a proud member of the bar, forever identified with the law, but he is unafraid to see its flaws and work to address them, no matter how uncomfortable that makes some people.
Scott served on the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment and wrote a profound and moving report detailing how tunnel vision happens to everyone in the criminal justice world. In founding Life After Innocence, I referred often to the report for both information and inspiration. And I started out my own legal education by reading his book 1L and then loving his fiction. So to work with Scott and have him contribute to Anatomy of Innocence was an honor.
What is the role of the editors in overseeing a project like this, and how did your collaborative process work?
Klinger: Putting aside the mechanical elements of composition, production, and communications, we felt that we were the conductors of a symphony trying to make sure that everyone was reading from the same score. We didn’t want the authors to get bogged down in the scholarly or statistical aspects of their stories—rather, we thought that we should be responsible for adding those elements to the book. We also wanted to keep the authors focused on a specific part of their paired exoneree’s story.
Laura was the heart of the book—the overall idea was hers, and the identification and communications with the exonerees were all done by her and her students at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, who created a dossier for each exoneree to provide to the relevant author.
Caldwell: Les has won an Edgar Award and many others for his amazing ability to grasp the whole of a project and yet annotate its very filaments. The authors and I supplied source material for the footnotes, which he honed and packaged, and he produced the bibliography based on the information from me and my students.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Laura Caldwell is the award-winning founder/director of Life After Innocence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the author of fourteen novels, including the Izzy McNeil series, as well as Long Way Home.
Leslie S. Klinger is the bestselling author of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, The New Annotated Dracula, and The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. Klinger is a practicing lawyer and a member of the Baker Street Irregulars.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.
My husband was wrongly convicted, as well. They first threatened him to take a plea or else they would go after me (his wife); I told him to fight for the truth. They went after us both—took everything we had, They held us in prison without bail while we waited 14 months for trial. They also threatened my husband’s lawyers to sign false statements to give them immunity, and threatened others into signing plea deals or face life imprisonment, and his Brady evidence. At our first trial, I was fully acquitted (miraculously—the prosecutors lied so much and led others to, as well as blocked evidence and witnesses, etc.), with the help of a public defender team, and my husband got a hung jury decision. They retried him and did even more egregious things to win at all costs. He was acquitted of the biggest charge that would have given him a long sentence, and he was convicted of the smaller charges—but they sentenced him as if he had been convicted of all charges. Thankfully, his case was just granted an oral argument hearing in front of the appellate court. Sadly, if it goes in front of the same judge for a retrial—who is friends with one of the prosecutors—it will be difficult to get a fair trial. My husband filed for a new judge, as the one he had was obviously a puppet for the prosecution. I also met so many others with similar stories, while I was in waiting for my trial. There is a systematic game prosecutors play when they want to take from others and go after them. Much of it stems from pure greed: they get to keep a lot of what is taken and they get bonuses, raises, and promotions, as well. It’s a scary and unjust system. By God’s grace, I am home with my children, but we have had to visit my husband in a penitentiary for years. I pray he comes home soon.