That was one of the reactions Michael Shumaker had to the news of Willie O. "Pete" Williams's impending release from prison after more than twenty-one years. Shumaker was Williams's defense attorney during his 1985 trial for rape. Conclusive DNA evidence has just cleared Williams of his conviction. Williams has yet to make a public statement, but Shumaker was also heard to say "Thank God for the Innocence Project."
The Williams case brings to mind Calvin C. Johnson Jr.'s story, which is told in EXIT TO FREEDOM. Johnson, who now sits on the board of directors of the Georgia Innocence Project, spent sixteen years behind bars for rape and related charges before he was freed in 1999--also on the basis of DNA evidence. Just as it almost happened to Williams, the physical evidence gathered in the investigation of Johnson's alleged crime came perilously close, a number of times, to being lost or discarded.
Among other books that take a hard look at our justice system, the use and abuse of evidence, and the promise of DNA testing, The Innocents is one of the most affecting--perhaps because it shows the faces of the wrongfully accused alongside their stories.
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