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10 Books About People Wrongfully Accused of Murder

By Jessica Ferri February 6, 2017

wrongfully accused books sam sheppard

Popular crime shows have you believe that the bad guys are always caught, and wrongful convictions never occur. In real life, however, justice is not always served.

Today, DNA evidence is a key component to proving a suspect’s innocence or guilt  in a court of law. Yet DNA testing is a recent development; it dates back to 1985. For those who lived in an earlier era when such testing was not readily available, the possibility of a wrongful conviction, however slim, was still frighteningly real.

In these ten books about people wrongfully accused of murder, you’ll discover the unbelievable perseverance of those who never gave up on proving their innocence.


 

Evil Angels, by John Bryson

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It was the cry of a desperate mother, heard round the world: “A dingo took my baby!” Lindy Chamberlain and her husband Michael had been camping in Australia when a dingo, a wild dog, snatched their nine-week-old daughter. Though there was no evidence, Lindy was convicted of murder and given a life sentence in 1982—spending four years in prison before being released and fully pardoned in 1987.

In this gripping true crime read, John Bryson reconstructs the particulars of the case in the book that became the basis of the film A Cry in the Dark, starring Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain, which won her a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards in 1989.

A Death in Canaan, by Joan Barthel

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The small town community of Canaan, Connecticut was shocked when one of its residents, Barbara Gibbons, turned up dead. They were even more disturbed when the victim’s 18-year-old son, Peter, confessed to the crime. They just couldn’t believe Peter was capable of such a brutal act. As it turned out, his confession had been coerced.

Peter’s case would attract the attention not only of those in Canaan, but celebrities like Mike Nichols and William Styron. In this true crime classic, Joan Bartel paints a complex portrait of small town life—where justice is not always so clear-cut.

The Wrong Man, by James Neff

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The murder of Marilyn Sheppard was one of the most notorious murder trials the United States had even seen. Long before O.J. or Casey Anthony, there was Dr. Sam Sheppard—a prominent and well-liked physician, accused of violently murdering his wife. Dr. Sheppard was convicted amid a media circus, spending a decade behind bars before he was eventually acquitted in a retrial.

In this gripping true crime read, James Neff pulls from DNA evidence, testimony never heard in court, and even the identity of the real killer to prove Dr. Sheppard’s undisputable innocence.

The Innocent Man, by John Grisham

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John Grisham is best known for novels like The Firm and The Rainmaker, but his first work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, is equally as compelling, if not more so.

Ron Williamson had big dreams of becoming a major league baseball player. But he also partied hard. So when a waitress named Debra Sue Carter turned up murdered near Ron’s home, police immediately considered him a suspect. Before he knew what was happening, Williamson was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. And it would take 11 years before he would have the evidence to argue against his conviction.

Full Circle, by Gloria Killian and Sandra Kobrin

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When the criminals who robbed and killed Ed Davies were brought in for questioning, they claimed a third-year law student named Gloria Killian had put them up to the crime. Though Gloria insisted on her innocence, and in fact, her complete ignorance of the slaying, she was tried and convicted.

Gloria spent her time in prison advocating for victims of wrongful conviction and for the plight of incarcerated women. It would be 10 years before she would have a chance to fight for her innocence and prove that she had been wrongly accused.

An Expendable Man, by Margaret Edds

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The story of Earl Washington, Jr. almost reads like John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men—with one major difference: Earl Washington, Jr. didn’t kill anyone. In 1983, Washington, a mentally handicapped farm hand was convicted of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old mother of three. He spent the next 18 years incarcerated in Virginia—and nearly 10 of those years on death row for a murder he did not commit.

Margaret Edds brings Washington’s incredible story to light in this moving book on the importance of DNA evidence and justice for those who do not have the resources to defend themselves.

Bloodsworth, by Tim Junkin

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Dedicated fans of true crime will revel in this book, the story of the first death row inmate to be vindicated by DNA evidence. Convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 1984, Kirk Bloodsworth awaited his fate … Maryland’s gas chamber.

Though he had always stood by his innocence and even received a second trial, his inept legal counsel resulted in a second conviction. While incarcerated, Bloodsworth read up on the law and persuaded his lawyers to pursue DNA testing, which was an emerging science at the time. His efforts resulted in his exoneration.

Chasing Justice, by Kerry Max Cook

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In this first hand account, Kerry Max Cook describes how he was sent to jail for the brutal rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards in 1977—a crime he did not commit. Cook did know Edwards, and had spent some time at her house, leaving fingerprints. So when she was murdered, police connected his prints to the slaying.

Finally, after navigating a system of bureaucracy for which he had no training whatsoever, Cook was vindicated by DNA evidence that tied Edwards’ ex-lover to the crime.

Getting Life, by Michael Morton

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In 1986, Michael Morton went about his daily routine. When he returned home from work, he found that his wife Christine had been savagely murdered. Despite the lack of evidence, police honed in on Morton as their prime suspect.

He was tried and convicted, losing all contact with his young son. Morton spent 25 years in prison, putting together the pieces to his case, and eventually amassed enough evidence to warrant a reconsideration in court.

A Criminal Injustice, by Richard Firstman and Jay Salpeter

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Marty Tankleff was just 17-years-old when he awoke one morning to find his parents murdered in their beds. When he called the police, he told them he knew who had done it—his father’s business partner, Jerry Steuerman, who owed his father more than half a million dollars and had made threats on his parents’ lives before. But for some reason the police named Marty as the prime suspect.

While Steuerman fled, Marty was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison. With the help of a retired NYPD detective and the support of his family, Marty would embark on a 20-year battle to prove his innocence.

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Featured photo of Dr. Sam Sheppard: Bettmann / Getty Images

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