Summary: Two lawyers hear a murder confession from a client, and out of respect for client confidentiality let another man sit in prison doing time for the killing (which happened in 1982) for twenty-six years.
They try to work out the point when they could ethically reveal this, and decide that they might be able to after the real killer’s death. The real killer agrees. At one point he faces execution, but the death sentence ends up being commuted, so the silence goes on.
They did waver a bit when it looks like the innocent man may himself be executed:
Logan’s case was working its way through the courts, too. During the first of two trials in which he was convicted, Coventry walked in to hear part of the death penalty phase. “It’s pretty creepy watching people deciding if they’re going to kill an innocent man,” he says.The lawyers had a plan if it came to that: They would appeal to the governor to stop the execution. But with a life sentence, they remained silent.
The real killer is already serving a life sentence for the murders of two police officers, so establishing his guilt for a third killing won’t meaningfully add to his punishment.
Eventually, in January, they hear that he has died in prison, so they go public.
After spending almost half his 54 years as an inmate, this slight man with a fringe of gray beard, stooped shoulders and weary eyes seems resigned to the reality that his fate is beyond his control.”I have to accept whatever comes down,” (Alton Logan) says, sitting in a visitor’s room at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.
He insists he’s not angry with Edgar Hope – the man who first said he was innocent – or even Andrew Wilson. He says he once approached Wilson in prison and asked him to “come clean. Tell the truth.” Wilson just smiled and kept walking.
Nor is Logan angry with the lawyers who kept the secret. But he wonders if there wasn’t some way they could have done more.
“What I can’t understand is you know the truth, you held the truth and you know the consequences of that not coming forward?” he says of the lawyers. “Is (a) job more important than an individual’s life?”
The lawyers say it was about their client – Wilson – not about their jobs, and they maintain that the prosecutors and police are at fault.
It reminds me a bit of Romeo Dallaire – somebody who remains loyal to a rule system even if it means human suffering out of all proportion to the value of the system itself.