ANATOMY OF INJUSTICE: A MURDER CASE GONE WRONG
Raymond Bonner, 301 pages, Knopf, $26.95
On Jan. 18, 1982, a man in Greenwood, S.C., discovered the body of his
neighbor, 76-year-old Dorothy Edwards, in her bedroom closet. She had been
brutally beaten and stabbed.
Investigators soon arrested a 23-year-old black man named Edward Elmore and
charged him with murder.
The evidence against Elmore was slim, at best. He had cleaned windows and
gutters for Edwards two weeks before her death, and he had her last name and
phone number written on a card he kept in his wallet. Police also found a
fingerprint identified as Elmore's at the back door of Edwards's house.
The lack of evidence — and Elmore's protests of innocence — didn't dissuade
jurors from finding him guilty of murder, criminal sexual conduct,
housebreaking and burglary.
In fact, as Raymond Bonner points out in his fascinating and cautionary new
book, "Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong," a total of 36 jurors
would find Elmore guilty, over the course of three trials.
"In many ways, Elmore's is a garden-variety death penalty case: a young black
male of limited intelligence convicted of murdering a white person after a
trial in which his lawyers' performance was so poor that it could barely be
called a defense," writes Bonner, a former investigative reporter and foreign
correspondent for The New York Times and a staff writer at The New Yorker.
But it's also exceptional, he adds, because it "raises nearly all the issues
that mark the debate about capital punishment: race, mental retardation, bad
trial lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct, 'snitch' testimony, DNA testing, a
claim of innocence."
As Bonner demonstrates, many of those issues would not have come to light if it
hadn't been for the work of a lawyer named Diana Holt, who learned about
Elmore's case while she was a law student working for the South Carolina Death
Penalty Resource Center.
Holt researched and advocated for Elmore's cause for more than 16 years. The
fact that Elmore eventually had his death sentence vacated is, in part, a
testament to her doggedness.
"I can exhale now," she says, on the book's final page.
If "Anatomy of Injustice" were a novel, it would provide an evening of
breathless entertainment. It moves as swiftly as a great courtroom thriller,
and Bonner's astutely observed characters are as memorable as any you're likely
to encounter in a John Grisham-penned best seller.
Of the larger-than-life prosecutor in Elmore's first trial, for example, Bonner
writes, "Vain about his age, a dapper dresser in a conservative, old-fashioned
way — he wore a fedora long after they had gone out of style — Jones was
charismatic. At the same time, he appeared to be openly needy, a man who seemed
to suffer in front of your eyes."
And the elderly man Holt believes was the real killer takes on an ominous
quality when she interviews him in his home.
He "was sitting in a big easy chair — a king on his throne, Holt thought to
herself," Bonner writes. "He was wearing slacks and a short-sleeved oxford
sport shirt; he looked like he had just come from teaching Sunday school."
Surprisingly, the man "seemed almost eager, excited, to talk about Elmore and
the murder," Bonner writes.
Then, after talking for less than f5 minutes, the man "volunteered, 'I am the
only one who could kill her and get away with it. -- The way she trusted me.'"
It's the sort of scene that belongs in an atmospheric thriller, the moment when
the interviewer suddenly notices how dark the room is, and how far away the
But "Anatomy of Injustice" has something thrillers don't: A real-life person
who spent 27 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit. That shocking
fact — and the unnerving ease with which he landed there — will likely haunt
readers long after they've finished the book.
(source: Doug Childers is a Richmond writer and edits WAG, a literary website,
at www.thewag.net.----Richmond Times-Dispatch)