National Press Club

Wrongly convicted man recounts ordeal at "Anatomy of Innocence" Book Rap

May 4, 2017 | By Eleanor Herman | elherman@aol.com

A National Press Club Book Rap on May 1 about "Anatomy of Innocence" featured (from left): Jerry Miller, who was exonerated after a wrongful conviction; John Mankiewicz, who wrote the chapter about Miller; Laura Caldwell, the book's editor; and National Press Club President Jeff Ballou, who moderated the discussion.

A National Press Club Book Rap on May 1 about "Anatomy of Innocence" featured (from left): Jerry Miller, who was exonerated after a wrongful conviction; John Mankiewicz, who wrote the chapter about Miller; Laura Caldwell, the book's editor; and National Press Club President Jeff Ballou, who moderated the discussion.

Photo/Image: J. Craig Shearman

Jerry Miller, who served 24 years in prison and a year on parole for a rape, robbery and assault he did not commit, said he is not angry but expressed concern for other innocent people in the prison system.

Miller spoke at the National Press Club as part of a panel at a May 1 Book Rap discussing "Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted." Other panelists were the book’s editor, Laura Caldwell — who paired exonerees with acclaimed authors — and John Mankiewicz, an executive producer and screenwriter for the hit Netflix series “House of Cards” who wrote the chapter on Miller. Club President Jeff Ballou moderated the discussion.

Miller had been wrongfully convicted in 1982 in Chicago, paroled in 2006, and exonerated in 2007 after testing of DNA evidence implicated another man. He is the 200th person exonerated through the efforts of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people.

“The conviction of an innocent person occurs in small steps. First, you are accused and think you just need to clear it up. Then there’s a trial. Then you hear you’re guilty,” said Caldwell, who founded Life After Innocence, an organization that provides services to exonerees.

Miller’s happiest moment came when Chicago prosecutors apologized to him on camera. “They had told the world I was guilty of a crime. Now they were telling the world I was innocent.” Still, he added, “The word ‘exonerated’ can never tell the full story. What was I supposed to do? I was 52 but felt like I was still 26.”

Ballou asked about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ April decision to end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards.

“I don’t understand any possible argument for rejecting science unless they’re going to go with alternative facts,” Mankiewicz said.

Mankiewicz admitted that he became so passionately involved with his chapter on Miller that he was very late with some “House of Cards” scripts.

“I knew mistakes were made,” Mankiewicz said, referring to the justice system in general, “but Jerry was framed in a way that you know it’s institutional. The city of Chicago gave citizens’ awards to parking attendants who identified him before his trial.”

Miller could feel the travesty unfolding.

“They wanted the public to feel safe,” Miller explained. “They needed a body and they needed a conviction.… I knew I was cooked before the verdict.”

Ballou asked the panel if they thought the current trend of increasing numbers of exonerations was going to continue.

“I believe fairness will win out," Miller said. "Nobody wants innocent people to be convicted. [Attorney General] Sessions may not believe in fairness but the American people do.”

Editor's Note: The book was co-edited by Les Klinger.