Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Corruption of Innocence - Book Review

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Imagine being sentenced to death for a crime you didn't even commit. It happens frequently in America. So frequently that there are organizations (such as the Innocence Project) set up to help exonerate those innocent incarcerated individuals. How could these people be wrongly convicted? Doesn't the U.S. justice system work?

Apparently not, and The Corruption of Innocence by Lori St. John is just one story of justice gone wrong.

In 1985, Joe O'Dell was convicted of raping and murdering Helen Schartner. Despite the evidence that proved his innocence (including a corroborated alibi), a lack of good defense lawyers and the misrepresentation of facts by the prosecution worked against Joe. For years, he tried appealing his case, asking for a new trial. And then Lori St. John (then Lori Urs) came into the picture.

Lori, a divorced mother of one living in New Jersey, got involved with a non-profit that worked to help people like Joe. As a volunteer, Lori was the one handling Joe's case, corresponding with him to give him updates and making sure all the paperwork got where it needed to go. But Lori soon became much more than just a volunteer. Working to save Joe became her life's mission, one that would take Lori from New Jersey to Virginia to Italy, meeting all sorts of people (including the Pope!) to help spread the word about Joe's innocence and get the court to agree to DNA testing, which wasn't available back when Joe was convicted. The DNA testing is key because it would definitively prove whether or not Joe is innocent.

Through all this, Lori finalizes her divorce, moves to Cape Cod, attends her daughters sporting events, and decides to go to law school. I liked that Lori threw in bits about her personal life, letting us know that she was committed to helping Joe, but she also knew that she had familial duties as well as personal goals to fulfill.

Sometimes I had trouble telling where we were on the timeline. It's a very fast-paced and urgent writing style, which well mirrors the fast-paced urgency with which Lori and others were trying to help Joe.

I was not familiar with this case. After all, I was just a kid when it was all happening in the '90s. So I didn't know how the story was going to end. If you don't know either, I won't ruin it for you. Just read the book!

The book is all from Lori's perspective and doesn't paint the Commonwealth of Virginia in a good light. I wonder what kind of response Virginia and those involved in prosecuting Joe O'Dell will have once this book comes out.

The Corruption of Innocence is published by Creative Production Service. It will be available to purchase on June 28, 2013. I received a free autographed advance review copy for my honest review.

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