Cover image for Actual innocence : five days to execution and other dispatches from the wrongly convicted
Actual innocence : five days to execution and other dispatches from the wrongly convicted
Dwyer, Jim, 1957-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvii, 297 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF9756 .D98 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
KF9756 .D98 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
KF9756 .D98 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
KF9756 .D98 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order


Author Notes

Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded and direct the pro-bono Innocence Project at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Both are in private practice in New York City.
Jim Dwyer is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist--who currently writes for the New York Daily News.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Scheck gained celebrity for his role in the defense of O.J. Simpson and the "nanny trial" of Louise Woodward. But most of his cases are unsung, and usually he gets involved later on, after a verdict of guilty has been handed down. He and partner Neufeld founded the Innocence Project to aid those who have been wrongly convicted--a failure of justice that occurs with frightening frequency, as documented in this startling expose. The Innocence Project alone has helped 43 wrongfully convicted persons--one was actually on death row for 12 years--gain their freedom, primarily through the use of new DNA techniques, which can be applied to old evidence (blood or, in the case of rape, semen). What Scheck, Neufeld and Pulitzer-winning Daily News columnist Dwyer offer here is a report on the many ways justice can go astray and an innocent person be convicted. Perhaps one of the more shocking of their revelations is the unreliability of eyewitness testimony; in addition to studies and statistics, they present a case in which three eyewitnesses separately identified the defendant as a rapist/robber: evidence uncovered by Scheck and Neufeld eventually exonerated him. Scheck and Neufeld offer a litany of such errors, along with detailed case histories: false "confessions," fraudulent lab results, junk science (particularly the use of hair typing as evidence), prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate defense lawyering have all led to convictions of the innocent. The authors offer concrete advice on how these dangers can be minimized (e.g., videotaping all police interrogations to ensure confessions aren't forced). This is an alarming wake-up call to those who administer our justice system that serious flaws must be addressed to protect the innocent. Literary Guild featured selection. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Scheck and Peter Neufeld, whose Innocence Project seeks to overturn wrongful convictions through DNA testing, join with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Dwyer to examine the cases of ten innocent people the project has been able to rescue. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



An Innocence Project Trapped in a wilderness of wrong places, Inmate 85A6097 howled, body and soul. His skin erupted. His teeth rotted. His feet grew warts too big for his shoes. His lungs flooded with pneumonia. His scalp dried to sand, his hemorrhoids burned so hot that only a surgeon's knife could cool them. He was often cranky and defiant with the prison staff, so whatever time he did not pass at sick call or in a hospital usually was spent in a disciplinary program. Marion Coakley had been a young man when he entered prison to serve a fifteen-year sentence for rape, and everyone who met him agreed that he was a simple soul and a difficult convict. "Marion is mentally retarded and a very angry individual," wrote a prison psychologist, one of many to use those words after meeting Coakley. "He has little insight into his behavior." The one bright note in his record was sounded by a prison teacher, who said that even though Marion understood little, he tried hard. She awarded him a certificate of merit for successfully memorizing the multiplication tables from zero to nine. He was thirty-two years old. At ten minutes to five on September 3, 1987, Marion rose from the cafeteria table in the Fishkill penitentiary where he had been resolutely chewing every last bite. He was alone. Moments before, his unit had been ordered to leave the dining area. It was two years to the week since he had arrived in prison, and he certainly knew the rules required him to leave the table promptly when ordered. But Marion continued munching until he was good and ready. He pushed back his chair and strolled over to a trash can to dump his tray. At the doorway, Corrections Officer T. Hodge waited. "When the unit officer calls your unit to leave the mess hall, you have to leave," said Hodge. "I wasn't finished," said Coakley. "Doesn't matter, you had your time to eat," said Hodge. "When you're called, you're supposed to leave." "I'm a man," roared Coakley. "I'll leave when I am done eating. And nobody's gonna tell me what to do!" A supervisor, a corrections sergeant, walked over to serve as a human blanket on the fuss. The inmates ate in shifts, and a new cohort was waiting at the doors. The officers wanted to move Coakley out of the way quickly and quietly, before any sympathetic rumble could gather force. "I ain't gonna leave till I'm finished," yelled Coakley, whirling his arms. "Now I'm finished, so I'm leaving." "Please keep your arms at your side," said the sergeant. "I ain't doing nothing, finishing my dinner," said Coakley, palms up, a shrug that did not mean surrender. "This is a direct order: Keep your arms at your side," said the sergeant. Coakley dropped his arms. "Give me your ID card," said Officer Hodge. "Don't have it," said Coakley, an automatic infraction. Another sergeant arrived, and the three officers quickly pinioned Coakley's arms to his side and rushed him away. He was put under immediate "keep-lock," an on-the-spot discipline administered to prisoners who pose threats to the order of the institution. He was confined to Cell 20. As soon as the door closed behind the guards, Marion knew what he was facing, because already he had passed four months under keep-lock and related disciplines. He would lose his commissary privileges, his phone call privileges, and his package privileges. Visitors, too, most likely. He would not be allowed to leave his cell for much of the day because he would have no prison job to go to. "This ain't right," he screamed. "This ain't right." Then he did to his cell what his body had done to him during his two years of confinement. He slowly, solitarily wrecked the place. The bedding was first to go. He hated the bed that owned too much of his nights and days. "I do not like to laying up doing noetin," he had written a few months earlier, asking to be released from an earlier keep-lock regimen. Now he hurled the mattress and blanket to the floor. He slammed the bed frame into the door, pounding away until it fractured. With a bar broken from the bed, he pulverized the sink. And with anything he could grab--paper, pillowcases, clothes--he stuffed the toilet bowl, where he had bled from his tortured hemorrhoids. A small group of corrections officers gathered outside the cell, listening to the destruction. They saw water flowing under the door from the clogged toilet and busted plumbing. When the racket had settled for a minute, one of the guards shouted at Coakley to knock it off. Marion responded by using the bed frame to batter the metal screen of the observation window in the door. The window screen buckled at the assault; then the glass shattered, flying into the courtyard of the cell block. "I want to see the warden," howled Coakley. "I don't belong here." Spent, he collapsed in the flooded cell. Three hours after the start of his one-man, one-cell rampage, he was coaxed out by a prison chaplain. Marion was escorted to an empty cell, where he whistled and shrieked into the block. No one could sleep. The next morning, a prison psychiatrist was called to assess the inmate. A man could lose it one night, but Marion Coakley's overall record was dreadful. From the day he shuffled his manacled feet into the prison system's reception center, Coakley showed "persistently negative adjustment" and had "performed less than satisfactorily in work placement." He refused to "accept staff direction," and showed "limited intelligence, little insight into his problems and current dilemma." He had been kept on antipsychotic medicine. The measure of its futility could be seen in the remains of Cell 20. Less than twenty-four hours after Marion Coakley destroyed a very sturdy cell with his bare hands, the psychiatrist with the Department of Corrections concluded, unsurprisingly, that Marion Coakley remained an angry man. The Fishkill psychiatrist had the solution: Make him another prison's problem. "Psychiatrist recommended immediate placement in a more structured and secure environment," stated an evaluation written by the staff after the night of destruction. "Subject transferred at direction of the first deputy superintendent." Excerpted from Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Jim Dwyer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Authors' Notep. ix
Prefacep. xi
1. An Innocence Projectp. 1
2. An Inventionp. 35
3. Seeing Thingsp. 41
4. False Confessionsp. 78
5. White Coat Fraudp. 107
6. Snitchp. 126
7. Junk Sciencep. 158
8. Broken Oathsp. 172
9. Sleeping Lawyersp. 183
10. Racep. 193
11. The Death of Innocentsp. 211
12. Starting Overp. 223
13. Lessonsp. 239
Appendix 1p. 255
Appendix 2p. 261
Sourcesp. 268
Acknowledgmentsp. 285
Indexp. 291