In January 1982, an elderly white woman in South Carolina named Dorothy Edwards was found murdered inside her home. After a botched investigation by local and state investigators and barely a shred of evidence, Edward Lee Elmore (or “Black Elmo,” as local cops liked to call him) was arrested, charged with the crime, quickly brought to trial, convicted and sentenced to death. Elmore’s only connection to the victim? He cleaned her gutters.
The shameful and potentially criminal prosecution and conviction of this “redheaded Negro,” as he was also derisively called, is the subject of a gripping, suspenseful and electrifying book, Anatomy of Injustice, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Raymond Bonner.
Bonner does what few others have done when writing about gross negligence and discrimination in capital punishment cases, which is to break down every single aspect of the case and produce an easily understood and compelling drama.
Beginning with the story of the discovery of the victim’s body by a neighbor who some say might have been the real murderer, Bonner shows how Elmore was falsely tried and poorly defended. Legendary prosecutor William Jones III put on quite a show, per usual. Meanwhile, Elmore’s life is left in the hands of two incompetent public defenders, including Geddes Anderson, whom most people claim was drunk for the entire brief trial. Needless to say, the jury wasted no time sending Edward Elmore to death row.
The hero of this story is a young, inexperienced but brilliant appellate attorney named Diana Holt who quickly determined the incompetent defense, the pitiful lack of evidence and incredible miscarriage of justice. It is Holt who becomes Elmore’s chief advocate and who ultimately saves her client’s life.
Regardless of your position on the death penalty, this should be required reading for anyone who believes in justice. Grade: A