Published by PublicAffairs on February 27th 2018
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It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.
– James Baldwin, No name in the Street
This is a very sobering book about how racism, bad forensics, institutionalization and a faulty criminal justice system in Mississippi put hundreds of innocent people behind bars.
Two three-year-old girls were taken from their homes, sexually assaulted and murdered in rural Mississippi. Of course, this was an outrage, but what is also a crime is that law enforcement officials at the time pursued and convicted two innocent men: Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Together these two men served a combined thirty years in prison. Thirty years that they will not get back. Thirty years that they were robbed of while the real killer went free. Also, two children died horrifically. Where is the justice when the wrong people are convicted and placed in jail?
The Jim Crow south was alive and well in Mississippi. This book chronicles how two men made a living off this corrupt system. Dr. Steven Hayne performed autopsy after autopsy – more than any other coroner. He often bragged that he never took a vacation let alone a day off…but how can one take a day off when you are so busy with “coroner obstruction.” How his friend, local dentist, Dr. Michael West became a forensic expert especially when it came to human bite analysis. Their works was rushed, often unprofessional and not keeping with forensic standards. Using evidence form embalmed bodies, citing wrong causes of death, etc. It was appalling to see how unprofessional they were and, yet they were used the most by prosecutors.
It is evident that a tremendous amount of research went into the writing of this book. I was shocked to see the dates of many occurrences of such breeches of not only common decency but professionalism in the criminal justice system. How state senator Robert Crook, one of Mississippi’s most powerful lawmakers once said “We just cut her tits off. She wont be coming here trying to tell us what to do anymore.” in regards to Faye Spruill, a female medical examiner. Dr. Spruill was the first woman in the country to be named an official state medical examiner. The good ole boys in Mississippi did not like a fiery woman telling them how to do the job.
Racism, ignorance, bad forensics, crooked officials, and inept doctors and lawyers are at fault. How are these issues addressed? How do you fix a system that is so badly broken? How do you give back time that has been stolen from someone’s life? How do you explain to a family who lost their child that the real killer got to walk free for so many years without facing justice?
Thank you to Perseus Books, Public Affairs and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.