An effective exposé of the criminal justice system that casts convincing doubt on the guilt of a death row inmate.


The Corruption of Innocence


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.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9890401-2-9

Page Count: 495

Publisher: Creative Production Services Inc.

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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A thimbleful of fresh content lies buried in tales familiar and often told.


Beatlemania meets autopsy in the latest product from the Patterson factory.

The authors take more than half the book to reach John Lennon’s final days, which passed 40 years ago—an anniversary that, one presumes, provides the occasion for it. The narrative opens with killer Mark David Chapman talking to himself: “It’s like I’m invisible.” And how do we know that Chapman thought such a thing? Well, the authors aver, they’re reconstructing the voices in his head and other conversations “based on available third-party sources and interviews.” It’s a dubious exercise, and it doesn’t get better with noir-ish formulas (“His mind is a dangerous neighborhood”) and clunky novelistic stretches (“John Lennon wakes up, reaches for his eyeglasses. At first the day seems like any other until he realizes it’s a special one….He picks up the kitchen phone to greet his old songwriting partner, who’s called to wish him all the best for the record launch”). In the first half of the book, Patterson and company reheat the Beatles’ origin story and its many well-worn tropes, all of which fans already know in detail. Allowing for the internal monologue, things improve somewhat once the narrative approaches Chapman’s deranged act—300-odd pages in, leaving about 50 pages for a swift-moving account of the murder and its aftermath, which ends with Chapman in a maximum-security cell where “he will be protected from the ugliness of the outside world….The cell door slides shut and locks. Mark David Chapman smiles. I’m home.” To their credit, the authors at least don’t blame Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” for egging on the violence that killed him, but this book pales in comparison to Kenneth Womack’s John Lennon 1980 and Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life, among many other tomes on the Fab Four.

A thimbleful of fresh content lies buried in tales familiar and often told.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2020


Page Count: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2021

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"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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