Raymond Bonner's Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, is getting national attention in book reviews, and his author events continue with stops in Washington, DC and Austin.
Tomorrow, Bonner will appear at Washington, DC's celebrated Politics & Prose, where many Book TV author events are taped for later airing. On March 7, Bonner is at Austin's Book People. Both bookstores are happy to send signed books to those who cannot make it to the store. Bonner also has a list of additional author events at his website.
On to the reviews. Jonathan Yardley posts a Washington Post book review.
Bonner, who reported on the Elmore case while working as a staff reporter for the New York Times, is a lawyer as well as a journalist and brings professional expertise to the book. He also brings passionate feelings about the proper roles of prosectors and defense attorneys. He came to admire a New Yorker named J. Christopher Jensen, a corporate lawyer “who felt a need to do something more meaningful than help rich people get richer” and helped defend many accused persons in South Carolina. “Jensen never asked himself whether Elmore was guilty or innocent,” Bonner writes. “It was not a question he had to address. For Jensen, like many criminal defense lawyers, in defending a criminal suspect he is defending the integrity of the judicial system and the Constitution, as well as the individual. By demanding that a guilty person have a fair trial, defense lawyers are ensuring that an innocent person will as well.”
As for prosecutors, “a bedrock principle of the American judicial system” is “the duty of the prosecution . . . not to obtain a conviction but to do justice.” Later Bonner writes: “If there is a flaw in the adversarial system of justice that has developed in America, it is that the adversarial nature of it outweighs justice. Prosecutors want to win in trial court. Appellate lawyers want to win on appeal. Justice often gets lost.” From the first prosecutor who went after Elmore to the last, every single one violated that basic rule. The next time you read about justice in America, think twice.
For those seeking more ammunition for their battery of anti-death-penalty arguments, look no further. “Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong’’ is Raymond Bonner’s accomplished and meticulously researched investigation into a murder case that, as the clumsy title suggests, was egregiously bungled.
In 1982, in Greenwood, S.C., Edward Lee Elmore, 23, is accused of killing an elderly widow.
Elmore had occasionally done odd jobs for the victim. When her body is found in her closet, stabbed dozens of times and possibly raped, Elmore is fingered as the prime suspect, despite a notable lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime.
Wilbert Rideau writes the review, "Presumed guilty," for the Financial Times.
America claims to have the best criminal justice system in the world, but in Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, Raymond Bonner reveals how flawed it is for the indigent defendant, especially if he is from a minority or is mentally retarded.
Edward Lee Elmore is both – an African American with an IQ of 61 who was 14 when he dropped out of school in the fifth grade, still reading at second-grade level. Unable to do simple mathematics or tell the time, he earned his living working as a handyman in the affluent white neighbourhoods of Greenwood, South Carolina.
Rideau is the author of the acclaimed memoir, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance, published in 2010 and noted here.
"On death row, by mistake (or worse)," is the Richmond Times-Dispatch review witten by Doug Childers.
"In many ways, Elmore's is a garden-variety death penalty case: a young black male of limited intelligence convicted of murdering a white person after a trial in which his lawyers' performance was so poor that it could barely be called a defense," writes Bonner, a former investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for The New York Times and a staff writer at The New Yorker.
But it's also exceptional, he adds, because it "raises nearly all the issues that mark the debate about capital punishment: race, mental retardation, bad trial lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct, 'snitch' testimony, DNA testing, a claim of innocence."
As Bonner demonstrates, many of those issues would not have come to light if it hadn't been for the work of a lawyer named Diana Holt, who learned about Elmore's case while she was a law student working for the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center.
Holt researched and advocated for Elmore's cause for more than 16 years. The fact that Elmore eventually had his death sentence vacated is, in part, a testament to her doggedness.
Earlier coverage of Bonner's latest book begins at the link.