According to the Innocence Project’s estimates, between 2.3 percent and 5 percent of all U.S. prisoners are innocent. Considering that the American prison population consists of 2.4 million people, as many as 120,000 innocents could now be locked up, some of them on death row.
John Grisham’s legal thrillers often tackle current topics. In The Guardians, his plot focuses on a non-profit that works to free those who have been wrongly convicted, usually through incompetence by law enforcement or, even worse, corruption.
Right off the bat, we’re introduced to Duke Russell, who is one hour and 45 minutes away from execution. Calling in a favor, Cullen Post, an attorney with Guardian Ministries in Savannah, manages to get Duke a stay. Proving him innocent will take more work.
Post is not only a lawyer, he’s an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. “When I signed on with Guardian I took a vow of poverty,” he says. “If my clients can survive on two bucks a day for food, the least I can do is cut every corner.” Post’s reward comes when he gets to walk one of his clients out of prison, something he’s done at least eight times.
Duke is just one of the people Post is trying to save. Perhaps his toughest, and most dangerous case, involves Quincy Miller, who was convicted of killing his divorce lawyer, Keith Russell. While Quincy’s guilt seemed iron clad – two witnesses, including his ex-wife, testified against him – what Post uncovers is a criminal plot involving a drug cartel. Many people are determined to keep Quincy in prison and prevent the real perpetrators from being uncovered.
Because Quincy has been in prison for 29 years, Post has his work cut out for him. But he lives for these moments, using his best detective skills to delve into the past and uncover secrets that have been long hidden. While lawyers are often not afforded access or consideration, when Post snaps on his clerical collar, doors open and confessions spill out.
In an author’s note, Grisham talks about the real life situations that inspired The Guardians. That’s the kicker here: while Grisham has spun a fictional tale there are many Dukes and Quincys out there. And while there are lawyers like Post, more of these driven, principled individuals are needed to right so many wrongs and free those who don’t deserve to be in prison. Grisham’s book is not only a good read, it’s a call to action.
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