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Wrongful Convictions - A New Perspective

As an insurance claim professional, I see wrongful conviction claims of all varieties. The nonfiction book Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin, offers an incredible perspective on wrongful convictions and their most common causes.

This post includes some highlights of the story.

Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin - If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend it. It is masterfully written and will undoubtedly impact how you view wrongful conviction matters. 

Willie Grimes was convicted of the rape and kidnapping of a 69-year-old Hickory, North Carolina woman in 1987 and spent 24 years in prison. Willie’s story epitomizes persistence, hope and faith, and it gave me a new perspective, both on a professional and personal level. It has enhanced my knowledge and insight into wrongful conviction claims and will assist with the analysis and evaluation of these matters.

Through Rachlin’s writing, you will experience Willie’s pain and frustration behind bars. He embarks on a letter-writing campaign to multiple attorneys and implores someone, anyone, to help him. It is insight into a judicial system that, for Mr. Grimes, was truly broken. Weak evidence, suspect criminal identification, and questionable science led to his erroneous conviction, even with the presence of a strong alibi.

Into Willie's story, Rachlin weaves the history of North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission (NCIIC), the first of its kind in the nation. He details the fights spearheaded by Christine Mumma, co-founder of NCIIC, to help Willie Grimes and others who may have been wrongfully convicted. It is heartening to read about the advocates in North Carolina who have worked in the judicial system, relentlessly pursuing justice and attempting to ensure the integrity of the courts. Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Illinois have since established similar innocence commissions. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, as of January 2018, there have been 2,164 exonerations in the nation since 1989.1

According to the New England Innocence Project, the most common causes of wrongful convictions are:2 

  • Eyewitness Misidentification
  • Unvalidated Forensic Science
  • False Confessions
  • Snitch Testimony
  • Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct
  • Poor Defense Lawyering 

Interestingly, Willie was a victim of at least two of the causes listed aboveAnd Rachlin doesn’t let you forget that the real perpetrator of the crime is still out there, which is also the double edged sword of all wrongful convictions. 

As an insurance claims professional, I see wrongful conviction claims of all varieties. They are complicated cases, often based on facts from 20 plus years ago. Many of the arresting officers have retired. It’s difficult to piece together what was credible at the time of conviction vs. intentional wrongdoing.  While the standards of forensic testimony have improved over the years, the jury is still out as to whether or not there has been any improvement in the criminal justice system related to the other common causes of wrongful convictions. 

The book is a real page-turner, which is not always true of nonfiction. If you have not heard of Willie’s story, you will find yourself rooting for justice and will be compelled to read on to see how it ends. If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear what you thought!



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