Johnson, in a remarkably even voice, details his trial and 16 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, ending with the long-suffering process that established his innocence.
Johnson grew up in middle-class Atlanta, a good student, hard-working, but with a taste for fast living. In college, he got busted for buying marijuana from an undercover cop. In his one real act of stupidity, he attempted to burgle an apartment for money to pay a pricey lawyer to get him off the drug charge. Awaiting trial, he was accused of having committed an earlier sexual assault; though the charges were dropped, the paperwork never got cleared up, and the false charge kept coming back to haunt him. Released on parole, he is immediately picked up for another rape, and though there’s ample evidence he didn’t commit the crime—and none to prove he did—he gets convicted: “I am about to serve a life sentence, plus thirty years, for a rape I did not commit, and it is considered a repeat offense, because of another rape I did not commit.” In his chosen mild tone, Johnson notes that “jail is a rude awakening, but it is indeed an awakening,” and he will have 16 years to have his eyes opened. “In prison every encounter is like a move in chess,” where consequences abound and multiply, both with guards and inmates. Even given his will and dignity, madness approaches; so too does religion—“The emphasis on rebirth and acceptance . . . [is] universally [needed] by men who desire another chance at life”—despite the pitfalls: “faith is the purest form of hope, and hope disgusts me,” he says, at least at first. Miracles come in the form of DNA testing, lawyers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project, and sweet release.
A rare individual, victim of not-too-rare legal circumstances, with a story that will have readers grinding their teeth until the end. (10 pp. b&w photos)