Author: Radley Balko, Tucker Carrington, John Grisham
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.