Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Raymond Bonner, this book is the heart wrenching description of a true crime AND a true miscarriage of justice. By telling each part of the case in full, from beginning to end, it is plainly and irrefutably shown that our justice system is far from perfect. This is truly one of those cases that is so wild it’s almost incomprehensible.
In January, 1984, Dorothy Ely Edwards, an elderly white woman was found brutally raped and murdered in her home. She had been stuffed in her own bedroom closet after her death. The man convicted for the murder was Edward Lee Elmore. Elmore was a mentally challenged black man who had no history of violence at all. He had done odd jobs here and there for Ms. Edwards, simple home repairs, yard work, etc. The only evidence directly placing Elmore at the crime scene, linking him to the crime scene period, was a regular latent fingerprint in an area away from the crime scene in the bedroom and found at a normal point of entry of the house for Mr. Elmore to have used. So, this fingerprint is entirely circumstantial, at best.
The rest of the evidence included pubic hairs ripped from the assailant during the sexual assault, blood on Elmore’s clothes and a fingerprint under the toilet seat in the bedroom bathroom adjacent to the room where the crime was believed to have taken place. They did find blood matching the victim on Elmore’s pants. But none of this evidence proved Elmore’s guilt. In fact, when looked at objectively, it exonerates him more than it incriminates him.
First, there was a lot of controversy over the pubic hairs that were found at the scene. The was a debate over how many hairs there were, this piece of information even being contradicted on the stand by the State’s own witnesses. Plus, there was no DNA from the pubic hairs presented at trial, making their only probative value the technician’s conclusion that they came from an African-American male. Next, the fingerprint under the toilet seat in the master bathroom didn’t match Elmore. And the blood on his pants, was such a small amount that he could have possibly been wearing those pants when he committed the crime if he was the assailant. The amount of brutality and violence unleashed upon Ms. Edwards was so horrific that blood would have been everywhere, all over his clothes, his body, his face, his hair, some would have even managed to find its way into places like inside the rim of his shoes or glasses if he was wearing glass, inside the band of a watch. And yet, all they found were some small blood drops, tiny ones.
Even though the District Attorney had a weak case against Elmore they still decided to take it to trial anyway. The prosecutor was extremely overzealous in his pursuit of convicting Edward Elmore. Not only did they go to trial with this piddly little fingerprint on the other side of the house, to which the defense could have said that fingerprint got there any of the times at which he had worked for her or when he had stopped by a few days before to pick up a check for payment for a job he’d done. But it gets worse.
The prosecutor, the judge and even Elmore’s own defense attorney were all VERY close during the whole proceeding. The defense attorney rarely questioned witnesses, if any. He repeatedly showed up to court inebriated. The defense attorney’s biggest concern seemed to be getting the trial over with as quickly as possible with having to do as little work as possible. This is not only vital but, dangerous for the outcome of this case. The fact that your defense team isn’t working to defend you…that’s a freakin’ problem!!! Nothing was done to contest Elmore’s mental capacity to stand trial and it was clear when he was on the stand, he didn’t fully understand everything that was being said or going on. And as the attorney badgered him, it was like is defense lawyer was taking a nap because he was hung over.
So, needless to say, at the first trial, Elmore was found guilty. He was also sentenced to death.
With every death penalty sentence comes an automatic appeal. Elmore and his family were hoping this would be their chance to get the truth out that Edward did not commit this terrible crime. Unfortunately, even though he was granted the saving grace of a second trial, it was an exact repeat of the first, almost down to the letter. This resulted in another conviction and another appeal. A third trial ensued. Yet another carbon copy of the first two trials with a conviction and death sentence to follow.
No new evidence was presented at any of these trials. The defense did no extra leg work to try to get ahead in the second or third trials. The prosecution repeated exactly everything they had in each trial and they had come out on top every time. And the judge made it clear on the record that he held a biased position on the matter.
All of this ended up landing Edward Elmore in prison on death row for over 20 years. Throughout three trials, this poor man could not catch a break. It wasn’t until a young lawyer with a lot of faith and zeal herself decided to poke around into the case and eventually freeing Elmore.
This book is a thorough example of how the justice system can be manipulated to exploit minorities, the disenfranchised, the broke and the hungry. The facts that are brought to light in this book are not only appalling but also very unsettling because it really does make you wonder who would be next. It gives excellent depictions as to how devious the government can get and how far they are willing to go, whether it’s right or wrong.
But, on the brighter side, it is also a reminder that situations like these are exactly why we have automatic appeals and some form of system of checks and balances to hopefully try to prevent the innocent from being convicted or put to death for a crime they didn’t commit.
However, this book could most definitely be used as part of a very convincing argument against the death penalty. I was a huge proponent of the death penalty before I read this and after I read this book, I found myself questioning a number of things, I’m curious if you will too.