Ron Williamsons story compelled novelist John Grisham to write his first work of non-fiction. His recent book, The Innocent Man, details the conviction and exoneration of Williamson, a minor league baseball pitcher, who was wrongly convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death. Never in my most creative moment could I have come up with a story like this, Grisham says. He will headline a fundraiser for The Innocence Project New Orleans, an organization that seeks justice for wrongfully convicted prisoners in Louisiana and Mississippi, on Tuesday, October 21.
The Innocence Project New Orleans is dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted prisoners and enacting future reforms within the criminal justice system. Louisiana has the United States highest rate of incarceration, and the Innocence Project New Orleans has helped win the release of 12 innocent prisoners since 1990. The Innocence Project also strives to provide a support structure for recently released prisoners, some of whom become reform advocates.
John Thompsons experience inspired him to work with the Innocence Project to form Resurrection After Exoneration, a non-profit organization assisting recently exonerated prisoners with legal, financial and educational aide. In 2003, Thompson was exonerated after serving 18 years for a crime he did not commit. He was imprisoned in 1984 for the murder of hotel executive Ray Liuzza. In 1999, just two weeks before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, a defense investigator went public with a crime lab report that had initially been concealed by the lead prosecutor, which cleared Thompson of the charges. It still took him four more years to get out of jail, and he was released with only $10 dollars and bus ticket. The Innocence Project and Resurrection After Exoneration try to help the recently exonerated re-adjust to life outside and to get on their feet financially.
Nationally, more than 220 prisoners have been exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.
The fundraiser for the Innocence Project will be at7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 21,,in the Sheraton Hotels Armstrong Ballroom. The event will honor 25 men exonerated by the Innocence Project across the nation since 1990. Entertainment is by Freddy Omar. Tickets are $150 per person, $275 per couple, $1200 for a table. Call 943-1902 for details. There are a few tickets remaining for the pre-dinner cocktail party with Grisham. Anna Marschalk-Burns