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MEAN JUSTICE by Edward Humes


A Town's Terror, a Prosecutor's Power, a Betrayal of Innocence

by Edward Humes

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83174-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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.