MEAN JUSTICE

A TOWN'S TERROR, A PROSECUTOR'S POWER, A BETRAYAL OF INNOCENCE

Grippingly written, compellingly told, Mean Justice makes other tales on the miscarriage of justice look like pleasant little fairy tales. In the legal world crafted by the founders of the Constitution, a series of checks and balances exist to ensure that innocent people don’t go to jail. The crater-size cracks in the criminal justice system today, however, are disturbingly clear in this page-turner by Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist Humes (No Matter How Loud I Shout, 1996; Mississippi Mud, 1994; etc.). Patrick Dunn is a retired school principal whose wife, Sandy, mysteriously disappears during one of her regular predawn walks. Although Dunn reports her missing, he becomes the prime suspect—indeed, the only suspect—based almost solely on a gut feeling by one of his closest friends, a younger woman who as an appointed official in Bakersfield, Calif., has the clout and stick-to-it-iveness to push the local police and district attorney’s office to go after Dunn. Not that they need much prodding. As Hume so carefully chronicles, this is a suburban town that already has a well-documented history of convicting innocent people and, worst of all, making these crimes stick for years. Bakersfield, after all, was one of America’s prosecutorial hot spots in seeking out supposed child molestation rings in the 1980s. Humes displays his award-winning style here as he lays out both Dunn’s sad tale—he is ultimately convicted with virtually no evidence pointing to him as the killer—and the background that so chillingly puts Dunn’s story into perspective. Especially distressing is Humes’s research indicating that cases such as Dunn’s are occurring with increasing frequency. Dunn, meanwhile, remains in jail. An eye-popping tale of justice miscarried that will shock anyone who believes our criminal justice system still works just fine.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-83174-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

LICENSED TO LIE

EXPOSING CORRUPTION IN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

A former Justice Department lawyer, who now devotes her private practice to federal appeals, dissects some of the most politically contentious prosecutions of the last 15 years.

Powell assembles a stunning argument for the old adage, “nothing succeeds like failure,” as she traces the careers of a group of prosecutors who were part of the Enron Task Force. The Supreme Court overturned their most dramatic court victories, and some were even accused of systematic prosecutorial misconduct. Yet former task force members such as Kathryn Ruemmler, Matthew Friedrich and Andrew Weissman continued to climb upward through the ranks and currently hold high positions in the Justice Department, FBI and even the White House. Powell took up the appeal of a Merrill Lynch employee who was convicted in one of the subsidiary Enron cases, fighting for six years to clear his name. The pattern of abuse she found was repeated in other cases brought by the task force. Prosecutors of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen pieced together parts of different statutes to concoct a crime and eliminated criminal intent from the jury instructions, which required the Supreme Court to reverse the Andersen conviction 9-0; the company was forcibly closed with the loss of 85,000 jobs. In the corruption trial of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a key witness was intimidated into presenting false testimony, and as in the Merrill Lynch case, the prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense, a violation of due process under the Supreme court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision. Stevens’ conviction, which led to a narrow loss in his 2008 re-election campaign and impacted the majority makeup of the Senate, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back; the presiding judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate abuses. Confronted with the need to clean house as he came into office, writes Powell, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to take action.

The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61254-149-5

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Brown Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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