An account of a woman’s four-year fight to save a convicted murderer from execution.
In 1993, at a crossroads in her life, St. John “needed, wanted desperately, to feel passionate about something.” She found what she was looking for when she volunteered for Centurion Ministries, an organization that works to vindicate wrongfully convicted prisoners. There, she learned of the case of Joseph Roger O’Dell, who had been sentenced to death in 1986 for the rape and murder of a woman in Virginia. She provides a dramatic account of the nearly four years she spent trying to save O’Dell from being executed, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful despite the intervention of both the Italian and European parliaments. “I would learn that the justice system isn’t really about justice,” she recalls. O’Dell’s conviction was based largely on blood evidence and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, but St. John, using her insider knowledge of the case, makes a convincing argument that it was tainted by witness tampering and the suppression of evidence. “It was a defendant’s worst nightmare,” she writes. “Joe was not only fighting the state. He was also fighting his own lawyer.” While working with O’Dell’s appellate lawyers, the author uncovered evidence that was never presented to the jury, interviewed witnesses—including the informant, whom she and an investigator tracked down in West Virginia—and received threatening letters from one of the prosecutors. “I am fighting against ruthless, powerful figures of authority who are not interested in the truth,” she laments. The book also details her personal relationship with O’Dell, whom she visited regularly on death row and to whom she eventually became so close that they married on the day of his execution in July 1997. It was a “connection caused by the union of two people in an intense battle over a human life,” she explains. The author’s passion keeps the book from becoming bogged down in legal detail, and the countdown to O’Dell’s execution is almost as suspenseful to read as it must have been for her to experience. Although she was unable to save O’Dell, she believes she was “successful in bringing this injustice to the world’s attention.”
An effective exposé of the criminal justice system that casts convincing doubt on the guilt of a death row inmate.