Interview *Excerpt* // Rick Bowers, Author of Innocence on Trial
Thank you, Rick, for stopping by Reading A Page Turner to share insight into your book, Innocence on Trial. Check out the audio excerpt, first, and then dive into the interview!
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How did you come up with the idea for Innocence on Trial?
I had taken my brown-and-white spotted mixed breed hound (Luke) to our friendly neighborhood dog park. A young woman was there with a fast and feisty three-legged border collie named BoBo. After telling me about her dog, she told me about herself. She was a student at Georgetown studying innocence law. That is, she was preparing to become an attorney specializing in exonerating the wrongfully convicted. I was surprised that there was an entire specialty based on exoneration. I studied the issue and found out what a huge problem it is. And I set out to write a book on this critical social justice issue. But I wanted to write a compelling piece of fiction that would be fun to read.
Did the woman in the dog park inspire your main character?
Yes. I created the character of Laura Tobias. She is an idealistic — and ambitious – a young attorney with the Counsel Against Wrongful Conviction in New York. She also owns a three-legged border collie who I renamed “Tripod.” Laura sets out to exonerate a man she believes was wrongfully convicted of a brutal murder 10 years before. Laura is the last hope for inmate Eddie Nash, who serving life without parole at the infamous Attica Correctional Facility in remote New York State. Laura uncovers evidence that her client was framed by the police and that the real killer is still out there. She also finds herself being stalked.
Cool. Did you set out to write a murder mystery with an important social theme?
Yes. The book is a fun read. A real who-done-it. It also raises the issues of wrongful conviction. Wrongful convictions have reached epidemic proportions in the United States.
Just consider these three points:
- There are more than 2.2 million incarcerated people in the U.S.
- Studies show that 2.3 to 5 percent are innocent. That means there are over 115,000 innocent people locked in our jails and prison.
- We know that several death-row inmates have been executed only to have evidence of their innocence surface after their deaths.
This is unacceptable. Just imagine the horror.
Who is trying to change this? To stop wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project has spawned a new movement to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and redress the causes of wrongful convictions. For the past 25 years, The Innocence Project has intervened in hundreds of cases, forcing the courts to release hundreds of inmates by proving their innocence. The use of DNA evidence to prove an inmate’s innocence has been key to this. Today, The Innocence Network is comprised of 67 organizations worldwide that fight for there wrongfully convicted.
What are the causes of wrongful convictions?
There has been a great deal of research on this and the causes are well known.
- Bad eye witness testimony and misidentification.
- Police misconduct — lying on the stand… planting evidence, tampering with evidence, etc.
- Bad forensic science: Everything from misidentifying to faking evidence and DNA test results.
- False Confessions: Police tricking or coercing suspects to confess to crimes they did not commit.
- Snitch Testimony: Jailhouse snitches fingering a suspect in exchange for early release or other favors.
- Bad defense attorneys.
Are there things that can be done?
Yes. The fixes are fairly straight forward.
- REFORM LINEUPS AND PHOTO ARRAYS
- VIDEOTAPE ENTIRE CONFESSIONS
- PRESERVE DNA EVIDENCE
- IMPROVE FORENSIC OVERSIGHT
- ESTABLISH INNOCENCE COMMISSIONS
- ASSURE EXONEREE COMPENSATION
- LIMIT SNITCH TESTIMONY
- REFORM PLEA DEALS
What do you hope listeners get from your audiobook?
First of all, I hope listeners enjoy it. I hope they are entertained. I hope listeners get lost in the story. The narration of the book is fantastic. The performer brings each character to life and keeps the story moving toward the surprise ending. I hope listeners try to guess who committed the crime. Few have succeeded. After enjoying the book I hope listeners get a sense of the enmity of the problem of wrongful conviction. Who knows? Maybe a few will even join in to help make things better.
Rick Bowers is an award-winning author and journalist specializing in the quest for social justice and equal rights. Rick has written three books, penned a PBS documentary and directed an oral history project that gathered thousands of first-hand accounts of the civil rights movement. Rick’s work has also been honored with the prestigious Peabody Award, Emmy Award and Webby Award.
Rick recently debuted as a fiction writer with the release Innocence on Trial — a legal thriller about an idealistic young lawyer seeking to exonerate a wrongfully convicted man. Finding that her client was framed by the police, attorney Laura Tobias also finds herself being stalked. Are the police seeking to keep her from exposing their frame-up? Or is the real killer trying to stop her from re-opening the case?
Bowers’ non-fiction book Spies of Mississippi (National Geographic, 2010) exposed the secret, state-run spy network dedicated to preserving segregation in 1950s and ’60s. Spies of Mississippi transported readers into a world of infiltrators and informants working to undercut civil rights organizations in the deep South at the height of the civil rights movement. The state spies framed civil rights leaders, jailed activists, threatened sympathizers and funded white supremacist organizations with tax dollars. Working with filmmaker Dawn Porter, Bowers also penned the PBS/Independent Lens documentary version of Spies of Mississippi, which won numerous awards for its hard hitting treatment of the topic. Bowers’ book Superman vs. the Ku Klux Klan (National Geographic 2012) revealed how the Man of Steel exposed the men of hate to a generation of children. The book details how the producers of the Adventures of Superman radio serial pitted the iconic superhero against a thinly veiled version of the KKK to five million children radio listeners in 1946, winning widespread praise from civic leaders and the press and humiliating the actual Klan. Superman vs. the KKK is now in development as a feature film by Paper Chase Films in L.A.
In addition to writing books and making films, Bowers also conceptualized and directed “Voices of Civil Rights,” a ground-breaking oral-history project that collected thousands of first-hand accounts of the small acts of courage that powered the civil rights movement. This priceless treasure trove of 21,000 recollections, letters, essays, audio tracks, videos and photographs is now archived at the Library of Congress and the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. A collaboration of AARP, the Library of Congress, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and History Channel, Voices produced best-selling books and award-winning documentaries. The Voices of Civil Rights documentary won the prestigious Emmy and Peabody awards.
He has also appeared on a wide range of media outlets, including PBS, NPR, CBS, the History Channel and Discovery Network.
Prior to working on books, films and multi-media projects, Bowers worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 15 years, reporting for the “Patriot Ledger “of Quincy, Massachusetts, the “Miami Herald, “and “USA Today.” His articles have been published in many of the most prestigious publications in the country, including the “Washington Post,” “Chicago Tribune,” ” Philadelphia Inquirer,” and “TIME.” He also worked as a director/vice president of creative initiatives for AARP, conceptualizing and directing far-reaching projects on important social issues.
*Social links are listed within the synopsis.
Narrator Eleanor Caudill: I am a voice-over, theatre, and commercial actress. I have a strong and confident speaking voice and a penchant for identifying the subtleties and nuance within varying reading materials. I have a passion for reading and that passion is multiplied when sharing a story with others. It would be my honor to tell your story.
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