• Feb 28, 2012

Raymond Bonner: “Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong”

  • 5:30 PM
  • Austin Hall, North Classroom, Harvard Law School, 1515 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Race, sex, and murder in a Southern town are the explosive core of Raymond Bonner’s legal drama. Anatomy of Injustice is also a brave dispatch from the trenches of a forgotten war over capital punishment. Told with a reporter’s tenacity, a lawyer’s acumen, and an advocate’s zeal, this book is both a gripping narrative and a chilling indictment of America’s justice system.

-Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Raymond Bonner, the gripping story of a grievously mishandled murder case that put a twenty-three-year-old man on death row.

In January 1982, an elderly white widow was found brutally murdered in the small town of Greenwood, South Carolina. Police immediately arrested Edward Lee Elmore, a semiliterate, mentally retarded black man with no previous felony record. His only connection to the victim was having cleaned her gutters and windows, but barely ninety days after the victim’s body was found, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Elmore had been on death row for eleven years when a young attorney named Diana Holt first learned of his case. After attending the University of Texas School of Law, Holt was eager to help the disenfranchised and voiceless; she herself had been a childhood victim of abuse. It required little scrutiny for Holt to discern that Elmore’s case-plagued by incompetent court-appointed defense attorneys, a virulent prosecution, and both misplaced and contaminated evidence-reeked of injustice. It was the cause of a lifetime for the spirited, hardworking lawyer. Holt would spend more than a decade fighting on Elmore’s behalf.

With the exemplary moral commitment and tenacious investigation that have distinguished his reporting career, Bonner follows Holt’s battle to save Elmore’s life and shows us how his case is a textbook example of what can go wrong in the American justice system. He reviews police work, evidence gathering, jury selection, work of court-appointed lawyers, latitude of judges, iniquities in the law, prison informants, and the appeals process. Throughout, the actions and motivations of both unlikely heroes and shameful villains in our justice system are vividly revealed.

Moving, enraging, suspenseful, and enlightening, Anatomy of Injustice is a vital contribution to our nation’s ongoing, increasingly important debate about inequality and the death penalty.

Raymond Bonner graduated from MacMurray College and Stanford Law School and practiced law for a decade, including as a judge advocate in the United States Marine Corps and as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco. He taught at the University of California, Davis, School of Law and founded the Public Interest Clearinghouse at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Later, he became an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for The New York Times and received numerous awards and honors, including the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, from the Nieman Foundation Fellows, in 1996. He was a member of the Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for articles about the sale of American technology to China. He has also been a staff writer at The New Yorker and has written for The New York Review of Books. His first book, Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador, received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; his second, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy, received the Overseas Press Club and Sidney Hillman book awards. He now lives in London.