An Expendable Man: The Near-execution of Earl Washington, Jr

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NYU Press, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 243 pages

How is it possible for an innocent man to come within nine days of execution? An Expendable Man answers that question through detailed analysis of the case of Earl Washington Jr., a mentally retarded, black farm hand who was convicted of the 1983 rape and murder of a 19-year-old mother of three in Culpeper, Virginia. He spent almost 18 years in Virginia prisons—9 1/2 of them on death row—for a murder he did not commit.

This book reveals the relative ease with which individuals who live at society's margins can be wrongfully convicted, and the extraordinary difficulty of correcting such a wrong once it occurs.

Washington was eventually freed in February 2001 not because of the legal and judicial systems, but in spite of them. While DNA testing was central to his eventual pardon, such tests would never have occurred without an unusually talented and committed legal team and without a series of incidents that are best described as pure luck.

Margaret Edds makes the chilling argument that some other “expendable men” almost certainly have been less fortunate than Washington. This, she writes, is “the secret, shameful underbelly” of America's retention of capital punishment. Such wrongful executions may not happen often, but anyone who doubts that innocent people have been executed in the United States should remember the remarkable series of events necessary to save Earl Washington Jr. from such a fate.

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An expendable man: the near-execution of Earl Washington, Jr

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In 1983, Earl Washington, an impoverished, mentally retarded black farmhand, was convicted of the rape and murder of a white woman in Culpepper, VA. Washington spent 18 years in prison-nine of them on ... Read full review

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I would not have read this book if it were not for my Criminology teacher making us. I have to say that it was an excellent book, and would read it again.

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About the author (2003)

As a reporter and now editorial writer for the Virginian-Pilot, the state's largest paper, Margaret Edds interviewed Earl Washington Jr. extensively and worked closely with his attorneys and all the principles of the case. She is the author of two critically acclaimed books on southern and African American issues, Free at Last and Claiming the Dream: The Victorious Campaign of Douglas Wilder of Virginia.

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