If you've already binge-watched all of The Innocent Man, we have good news for you — you can read the book that inspired the series, too. Netflix's six-part true crime docuseries is actually based on John Grisham's bestselling 2006 book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, which is centered around two murders that took place just a few years apart in Ada, OK, in the 1980s, as well as the controversial chain of events that followed. Grisham may be known for his legal thrillers — having practiced criminal law himself for a decade — but The Innocent Man remains his only work of nonfiction, and believe it or not, the subject matter was first brought to his attention by a relatively quiet obituary in the New York Times.
In December of 2004, Grisham came across an article reporting the death of Ronald Williamson, an Oklahoma man who had narrowly escaped death row, only to die of liver disease 10 years later at the age of 51. He was fascinated by the similarities between his life and Willamson's — especially their upbringings and their previously shared desire for a career in professional baseball — and Grisham knew he had a story on his hands. He contacted Willamson's sister, Annette, in Tulsa, and he learned there was far more to the story than the obituary suggested.
Though Grisham's first work of nonfiction was a hit, not everyone was pleased with how he told the story. A libel lawsuit was filed a year after publication by former Pontotoc County District Attorney William Peterson, former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigator Gary Rogers, and state criminalist Melvin Hett, three men who helped win the original convictions against Williamson in the murder of cocktail waitress Debbie Carter. The lawsuit was later dismissed, and though Bill Peterson regrets the wrongful convictions against Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz, he maintains that Grisham's criticism of him in The Innocent Man is unfair. "I did the job the best I could based on what was presented to us by law enforcement," he told The Ada News. "No one did anything wrong."
Grisham served as an executive producer of the Netflix series and he appears in on-camera interviews, but if you're a real true crime junkie, you're going to want to read his full take to get the whole story.