Marti Green, talks to Kindle Most Wanted about innocent prisoners being freed, and how her real life experiences fuel her new legal thriller Presumption of Guilt.
If you watch any national news lately you know the headlines are full of stories like Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown who were recently found innocent of a crime for which they had been convicted and already served 31 years in prison. Because I write about a fictional group called “The Help Innocent Prisoners Project” I'm regularly asked "How do you come up with ideas for a book?" The answer is that they come from my imagination, although my imagination is fueled by my work experiences and real cases that I then mold into something new.
It was an early work experience, prior to attending law school,that inspired me to write my first book, Unintended Consequences. My job as a counselor for the New York State Office of Drug Abuse Services was to evaluate drug abusers who had criminal cases pending, determine what program would best help them recover from their drug dependency, and recommend sentencing alternatives to incarceration. As a result, I worked closely with probation departments and judges. In most cases, my clients readily admitted their culpability after conviction. In a few, they were steadfast in maintaining their innocence. I learned that in the criminal court system, maintaining innocence after a conviction often resulted in a recommendation for a harsher sentence. The reason? Once a jury determined guilt, a defendant who failed to acknowledge his or her guilt was deemed unrepentant. From those days, I have always been interested in the plight of an innocent person convicted of a crime. It was natural, then, once I decided to write a legal thriller, to write about such a situation.
It was my fascination with a real murder case, however, that provided the concept for Presumption of Guilt, which opens with a teenage girl who is convicted of the murder of her parents. About twenty years ago, a seventeen year old boy in my community was arrested for the murder of his well-to-do parents. The region's newspapers and local television stations followed the story from his arrest through the trial and I followed it avidly.
According to the teenager, he awoke to find his mother in her bedroom, bludgeoned to death, and his father in his study, also bludgeoned and unconscious but still alive. When the police arrived, they immediately focused in on the son as a suspect and brought him down to the precinct for questioning. No family member or attorney was present with him. He repeatedly denied harming his parents and after several hours, the interrogator left the room. When he returned, he told the teen that his father had regained consciousness and said his son had attacked him. (In fact, his father had already died at that point). Upon hearing this, the teen said that he didn't remember doing it, but if his father said he had, then he must have. That quasi-confession resulted in his conviction and sentence of consecutive terms of twenty-five years to life (New York State doesn't have a death penalty).
At the time of the events, I was convinced that the son hadn't murdered his parents. He had to have been in a state of shock after finding his mother dead and his father near dead. He refused to sign a written confession and recanted shortly after. Most importantly, there was no forensic evidence tying him to the crime and the motive ascribed to him (that he was angry at his father's refusal to buy him a car) seemed far-fetched to me. Over the years, I often thought of the young man. Seventeen years after his incarceration, new facts came to light that pointed the finger at two other men, one of whom had allegedly admitted to several people over the years, including his son, that he'd murdered the couple. The young man was finally released from prison. When it came time to write my next book, I took the barest facts of that case - a teenager accused of killing his parents and a confession - and spun it into the tale that became Presumption of Guilt.