Cover image for The wrong men : America's epidemic of wrongful death row convictions
The wrong men : America's epidemic of wrongful death row convictions
Cohen, Stanley, 1934-
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 344 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV8698 .C64 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV8698 .C64 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In January 2000, Illinois Governor George H. Ryan declared a moratorium on state executions. Three years later, Ryan commuted all Illinois death sentences to life imprisonment, saying, "Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die." This book chronicles over one hundred cases where journalism students, grassroots organizations, families, and pro bono lawyers--armed with DNA evidence and other instruments of justice--have defeated that demon. Cohen reveals how eyewitness error, jailhouse snitch testimony, racism, junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, and incompetent counsel have often populated America's death row with the wrong men. Readers embark on journeys with men who were arrested, convicted, sentenced to death, dragged through the appeals system, and finally set free based on their actual innocence. Some languished for decades in our death houses. Notable cases of wrongful imprisonment outside of death row are also profiled. Although these stories end with vindication, there are those that have ended with unjustified execution. The Wrong Men is sure to fuel controversy over a justice system that has delivered the ultimate punishment 820 times since 1976, though it cannot guarantee accurate convictions.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Cohen's criticism of the U.S. criminal justice system is harsh and specifically grounded in the wrongful convictions of so many death-row prisoners. From the initial use of DNA to free convicted rapist Gary Dotson after his victim recanted her story to the death-row reprieve of Anthony Porter as a consequence of an investigation by a Northwestern University professor and his students, our criminal justice system has failed on a number of levels. Cohen details the weak areas, including false confessions, eyewitness errors, jailhouse informants, corrupt practices, lack of evidence, and flawed science. Although some may argue that the recent surge in the release of death-row prisoners reflects a justice system that works, Cohen successfully argues the opposite. The story of the death-row victims of our criminal justice system are horrific and, by all indications, not as unique as we would hope. Cohen reports that there are hundreds of such cases. This book is a must-read for those concerned with the inequities of our criminal justice system. --Vernon Ford Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

As the title suggests, Cohen (The Man in the Crowd) examines some 100 instances where people sentenced to death were later exonerated, most of them ultimately proven innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned. The capsule profiles of the exonerated are often too sketchy to be fully satisfactory. Still, Cohen makes his case that innocent people regularly receive death sentences merely through the cumulative effect of the stories. Cohen also analyzes the chief reasons why wrongful convictions occur so frequently. Eyewitness error is a prime factor, whether because of simple mistake or pressure from law enforcement officials. Again, prosecutors avid for convictions distort trials by inducing or winking at perjury or by suppressing evidence favorable to the accused. Other wrongful convictions are attributed to junk science, such as having witnesses' memories stimulated by amateur hypnotists. The author's explanations of these sources of capital error are straightforward and clarified by well-chosen examples. DNA analysis, as the book also explains, has become the main vehicle for exonerating the innocent, but in many cases no DNA evidence is available. Cohen believes the death penalty will soon be relegated to the "dark and distant past," and this volume is a convincing argument for the unreliability of capital convictions. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this expose, Cohen (The Man in the Crowd) presents over 100 accounts about men and women wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, including the stories featured in the stage play "The Exonerated" and the case of the Central Park jogger. Throughout, the stories not only reveal an inefficient and uncaring justice system that convicts on eyewitness errors, jailhouse snitches, racism, and incompetent counsel but also show that the justice system allows for exoneration. The problem is that the initiative must come from the outside. The men and women Cohen writes about were cleared of their charges by the efforts of journalism students, grassroots organizations, the families, and pro bono lawyers. In the end, the message is both dismal and upbeat: wrongful convictions happen startlingly often, but they can by overturned by the efforts of a concerned populace. This book is similar in scope to Taryn Simon's The Innocents but offers a more extensive text. On the other hand, Cohen's features some striking photography. Both titles are highly recommended, but either one is enough for a general collection.-Frances Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.