John Grisham tackles wrongful convictions in new novel

John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, “The Guardians,” centers on a lawyer-turned-minister whose calling in life is to help exonerate innocent people from prison. As Grisham told “CBS This Morning,” it’s based on real-life lawyers who have spent their careers freeing the innocent and is dedicated to one man in particular: James McCloskey.

“He’s a remarkable man. He started an outfit called Centurion Ministries 45 years ago. For 45 years James has roamed the country, taking a few cases at a time. And 45 years later he’s exonerated 63 people. Innocent people,” Grisham said. “Centurion Ministries now is based in Princeton. It’s a wonderful organization with a staff that litigates from coast to coast and get innocent people out.”

Grisham, lauded as the king of the legal thriller, hopes the book can shine a light on both the prevalence of people who are wrongfully imprisoned in the U.S. and lesser-known issue of “bogus” forensics.

“We have no forensic standards in this country. We’re trying to adopt them. But there are thousands of people in prison who were put there by bogus ‘experts.’ People who testify about bite-mark analysis or boot print analysis or blood spatter. Most of it’s not based on science,” Grisham said. “We’re working with the Innocence Project, Centurion Ministries — the innocence community is working to undo so many bogus convictions based on junk science.”

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“The Guardians” isn’t Grisham’s first book about a wrongful conviction. His 2006 non-fiction best-seller, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” centers on a former minor league baseball player who was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter.

The topic, he says, embodies everything we love in stories.

“Every wrongful conviction is a fantastic story because of the level of human suffering, the injustice, the just storytelling, all the factors that we love in stories, they’re in a wrongful conviction,” Grisham said. “I wish I could write every one of them.”

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