True Crime Review: The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist

August 12, 2019 Uncategorized 8 ★★★★

True Crime Review: The Cadaver King and the Country DentistTitle: The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South
Author: Radley Balko, Tucker Carrington, John Grisham
Source: Library

Summary: An informative and infuriating read that uses an engaging story to highlight areas where criminal justice reform is desperately needed.

“After two three-year-old girls were raped and murdered in rural Mississippi, law enforcement pursued and convicted two innocent men: Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Together they spent a combined thirty years in prison before finally being exonerated in 2008. Meanwhile, the real killer remained free.” (source) This was made possible by a criminal justice system that incentivized experts to give law enforcement the answers they wanted. This was particularly desirable to people in power when racially motivated killings were prevalent. Even today though, there seems to be little appetite for reform. Courts around the country still allow specious ‘science’ and prevent innocent people from being freed on technicalities. This book focuses on two men who took advantage of this system to make a profit while sending innocent people to jail.

This was as important and infuriating of a story as you might expect from the description. The authors did an amazing job of clearly presenting the two cases they focused on. They started with the details of these two crimes, helpfully delineated by date. This was followed by a history of the Mississippi court system. The transition to this section was a little rough, but it was extremely helpful. It made it easier to understand how such tragic miscarriages of justice could happen. It also included a number of other cases that went similarly wrong, showing that Brewer and Brooks’ cases weren’t one-offs.

As the history of the court system wrapped up, we learned about the rise of the two titular fraudulent experts. Then we returned to the court cases where Brewer and Brooks were wrongly convicted. We also got to learn about where they are now. However, one of the few weaknesses of this book is that we didn’t really follow any of these individuals throughout the whole book. That certainly didn’t keep me from becoming emotionally invested in the story though. It was horrifying to learn about how broken our current criminal justice system is, but that’s knowledge I think everyone should have.

8 Responses to “True Crime Review: The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist”

  1. Helen

    Infuriating is a great way to describe books like this one. Bigoted officials ruining other people’s lives is so frustrating. Have you read Just Mercy yet? I think you’d really like it.

    • DoingDewey

      Yes, I also loved Just Mercy! I think this is the third book I’ve read now that’s related to the Innocence Project (including these two and Burned by Edward Humes) and it definitely made me want to donate to them and perhaps volunteer with them someday.

  2. whatsnonfiction

    This one was so infuriating. I couldn’t believe the dentist was actually able to make the marks himself with the teeth molds that he claimed were there in the first place. And the whole coroner system is also unbelievable. I remember thinking parts of this one were a bit confusing because they skipped around a lot or didn’t return to things I thought they would, but still, as you say, it was impossible not to become emotionally invested in it.

    • DoingDewey

      I couldn’t believe it either! The lack of will power to fix things blows my mind, as does the way science is handled in the courts. It logically makes some sense, given the incentives people who are part of the system have, but I also just don’t understand participating in something so clearly wrong.

      • whatsnonfiction

        I know what you mean. It destroys any notion of blind justice. I also don’t understand why one side can pay so-called “experts” to come up with the findings they want to help their case. It’s just rigged in so many ways.

  3. Mike Jones

    Recently quite a few books have been published on injustice done to people wrongfully accused of committing crimes. Here we are given some explanation about how such tragedies may happen. Must read the book.
    Mike Jones recently posted…Bumpy Ride Or HighwayMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      It was definitely worth the read! It’s horrifying how many miscarriages of justice are coming to light recently, but I am glad books like this give us an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

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