Reading guide for The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Innocent Man

Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

By John Grisham

The Innocent Man
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Oct 2006,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2007,
    448 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About this Reader's Guide

The Innocent Man unfolds with the taut suspense, intriguing characters, and vivid scenes that have made John Grisham one of the most widely read novelists in America. But this time, he’s reporting on actual events–and a courtroom drama that results in a real-life nightmare for all the wrong people. Sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, Ron Williamson experienced a flagrant miscarriage of justice so regrettably common in criminal prosecutions across the country. His story will leave you hungering for answers; whether you read it with a group of friends or as part of a forum, The Innocent Man is not a book you will want to keep to yourself. This guide is designed to enhance your discussion of Ron Williamson’s story, furthering the conversation begun by John Grisham. We hope it will enhance your experience of this chilling walk with the accused.


Reader's Guide
  1. What were your initial impressions of Ron Williamson? How did your attitudes toward him shift throughout The Innocent Man?

  2. Discuss the setting of Ada, Oklahoma, as if it were one of the characters in the book. What were your opinions as Grisham described Ada’s landscape–a vibrant small town dotted with relics of a long-gone oil boom–and the region’s history of Wild West justice?

  3. In your opinion, why was Glen Gore overlooked as a suspect? Were mistakes made as a result of media pressure to find justice for Debbie Carter and her family? How did Dennis Fritz’s knowledge of the drug scandal affect the manhunt? Was injustice in Ada simply due to arrogance?

  4. How was Dennis different from Ron? Why didn’t Dennis confess, while Tommy Ward and Karl Fotenot did? Did refusing to confess help Dennis in the long run?

  5. As you read about the court proceedings, what reactions did you have to the trial-by-jury process? Have you served on a jury, or been a defendant before a jury? If so, how did your experience compare to the one described in The Innocent Man?

  6. What are the most significant factors in getting a fair trial, or an intelligent investigation? Does personality matter more than logic in our judicial system? How would you have voted if you had heard the cases against Ron and Dennis?

  7. How does new crime-lab technology make you feel about the history of convictions in America? What might future generations use to replace lie-detector tests or fingerprint databases? What are the limitations of technology in solving crimes?

  8. How did the early 1980s time period affect the way Debbie’s last day unfolded, and the way her killer was hunted? Would a small-town woman be less likely to trust a Glen Gore today than twenty-five years ago? Were Ron’s high-rolling days in Tulsa spurred by a culture of experimentation and excess?

  9. How did the descriptions of Oklahoma’s death row compare to what you had previously believed? What distinctions in treatment should be made between death-row inmates and the rest of the prison population?

  10. What is the status of the death penalty in the state where you live? What have you discovered about the death penalty as a result of reading The Innocent Man?

  11. In his author’s note, Grisham says that he discovered the Ada saga while reading Ron’s obituary. What research did he draw on in creating a portrait of this man he never knew? In what ways does The Innocent Man read like a novel? What elements keep the storytelling realistic?

  12. Discuss the aftermath of Ron’s and Dennis’s exoneration. How did you balance your reaction to the triumph of Ron’s large cash settlement (a rare victory in such civil suits) and the fact that it would have to be paid for by local taxpayers?

  13. The Dreams of Ada (back in print from Broadway Books) figures prominently in Ron’s experience, though the men convicted in that murder are still behind bars. What is the role of journalists in ensuring public safety? Why are they sometimes able to uncover truths that law enforcement officials don’t see?

  14. Grisham is an avid baseball fan. How did his descriptions of Ron playing baseball serve as a metaphor for Ron’s rise and fall, and his release?

  15. To what extent do you believe mental health should be a factor in determining someone’s competence to stand trial, or in determining guilt or innocence?

  16. In his author’s note, Grisham writes, “Ada is a nice town, and the obvious question is: When will the good guys clean house?” What are the implications of this question for communities far beyond Ada? What can you do to help “clean house” in America’s judicial system?

Suggested Reading

The Innocence Project
http://www.innocenceproject.org

The Innocence Project: Ron Williamson
http://www.innocenceproject.org/case/
display_profile.php?id=59


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
http://www.aclu.org

ACLU Oklahoma
http://www.acluok.org

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
http://www.ocadp.org/news/stories/williamson.html

Life After Exoneration Program
http://www.exonerated.org/index.php

Active Voice After Innocence
http://www.activevoice.net/afterinnocence.html

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
http://www.ncadp.org

Southern Poverty Law Center
http://www.splcenter.org

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/freeform/
publicwelcome?opendocument%20


Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
http://www.cuadp.org/

Catholics Against Capital Punishment
http://www.cacp.org

The Abolitionist Action Committee
http://www.abolition.org

Death Penalty Information Center
http://deathpenaltyinfo.org

The Justice Project
http://www.thejusticeproject.org

PBS Frontline: Ron Williamson Profile
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/
shows/burden/profiles/williamson.html


Law Library of Congress & State of Oklahoma
http://www.loc.gov/law/guide/us-ok.html

US Government & Human Rights
http://usinfo.state.gov/dhr/human_rights.html

National Council on Crime and Delinquency
http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/n_mission_main.html

Center On Wrongful Conviction
http://www.centeronwrongfulconvictions.org

New Project Aims to Assist Exonerated Prisoners
http://www.truthinjustice.org/LAEP.htm

Find Anti-Death Penalty Advocates
and Anti-Death Penalty Meet ups near you
http://antideathpen.meetup.com

Clark Prosecutor & Wrongful Conviction Sites
http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/
links/dplinks.htm#ng


The Abolishment Movement
A Forum Dedicated to Abolishing the Death Penalty
http://abolishmentmovement.mywowbb.com

Amnesty International -- The Death Penalty
http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-index-eng

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Dell. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...
  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  254Cartwheel:
    Jennifer duBois
  2.  143Happier at Home:
    Gretchen Rubin

All Discussions

Who Said...

If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.