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Crime & Justice

New book 'Anatomy of Innocence' allows wrongfully convicted to tell their stories

"Anatomy of Innocence" edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger

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People who have made good faith estimates are hoping that our human system of criminal justice gets it right 95% of the time. If we got it right 95% of the time there would still be 110,000 innocent people in jail. -- Laura Caldwell, co-editor, "Anatomy of Innocence"

In recent years, wrongful conviction stories like the ones in “Serial” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” have captivated audiences. The characters in these stories are ordinary people. That's what makes the stories so intriguing – this could happen to anyone.

“Anatomy of Innocence” is a new anthology that tells the stories of over a dozen people who were convicted of crimes they did not commit. What makes it unique is that the stories are told by the actual exonerees, with the help of thriller and mystery writers like Sara Paretsky, Lee Child, Brad Parks, and Laurie King.  Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger teamed up to co-edit the collection of stories.

Author Laura Caldwell is a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. In 2008, she founded Life After Innocence at Loyola, which provides resources for innocent people who have been affected by the criminal justice system as they re-enter society.  Leslie Klinger is best known for his annotated editions of “Sherlock Holmes,” “Dracula,” and the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

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They worked together on “Anatomy of Innocence” to examine the real life consequences of wrongful convictions. “The idea was to present them almost like a novel to present the arc, to present the typical experience of the exonerees,” Klinger says. “From the very first moment from the arrest all the way through reentering society and the mental adjustments.”

Sales of the book support Life After Innocence, and if it sells well enough, some of the proceeds will go to the exonerees who tell their stories. The book sites statistics from the National Registry of Exonerations, kept by Michigan State, UC Irvine, and U of M, which says there are about 2,000 cases of exonerations that have been publicly recognized.

Klinger says they worked hard to mirror the overall demographics of  the wrongfully convicted: almost a third are black, about 10% were first arrested under the age of 18, and half were under the age of 25 when they first became involved in their case and ended up incarcerated.

It’s not always about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“67% of wrongful convictions that involved big level felonies involved prosecutorial or police misconduct,” Caldwell says. “Now, that is not to say that the majority of police or prosecutors engage in misconduct… unfortunately we have seen such egregious things happen on behalf of police and prosecutors.”

“When we were envisioning this book “Making a Murderer” wasn’t out, but “Serial” was. The average person wasn’t as well versed in wrongful convictions,” Caldwell says. “By the time we got to actually publishing, the hope is that you understand that this happens. It’s a human system – it's bound to happen for various reasons – so now that it’s bound to happen for various reasons what does it feel like to be in that person's head? What does it feel like to be in their soul? What does it feel like to be in their eyes?”

On Sunday, May 21, at noon, Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger will be reading an excerpt from "Anatomy of Innocence" and taking questions at the Tam O’Shanter Inn in Los Angeles. They will be joined by authors Jan Burke and Gary Phillips and exoneree William Dillon.

For the full conversation with Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger click on the audio player above.