Review of Scrapped: Justice and a Teen Informant by Lisa Peebles and Jon O’Brien rating ****
I’ve always been drawn to wrongful conviction stories. There’s just something about the idea of an innocent person wasting away in prison for something they didn’t do. Wrongful convictions happen for a variety of reasons. Coerced confessions, false testimony, mistaken eyewitness accounts, prosecutorial misconduct, and poor police work are just a few reasons. But, no matter the reason, it is a long and challenging process to correct the error once a wrongful conviction occurs.
One of the biggest obstacles in fighting wrongful convictions is the obstruction from those who made the original errors. They make motions denying DNA testing. They claim that new witnesses who come forward with new information are not credible. Appeals courts seldom reverse lower court decisions. No one wants to admit an error. No one wants to be the guy who lets a guilty person go free. It’s an uphill battle with few successes.
The story told in the book Scrapped is about the wrongful conviction of Gary Thibodeau. Gary and his brother Dick Thibodeau were charged with the kidnapping and murder of eighteen-year-old Heidi Allen. Dick Thibodeau made one of the last purchases at a convenience store where the victim worked. Witnesses claimed to have seen Heidi being dragged into a light blue or white van. Dick Thibodeau owned a white van. Witness accounts were that two or more people were involved in the kidnapping.
Both Dick and Gary would ultimately be arrested and put on trial for the kidnapping and murder of Heidi Allen. Dick was acquitted. Gary was not. Prosecutors used the same shaky evidence in both trials. The one difference was that Gary had had some minor run-ins with the law.
That’s the setup. The remainder of the book concerns the efforts of the two authors, Lisa Peebles and John O’Brien, to learn the truth and hopefully free an innocent man.
For Gary to go free, one of three things had to occur. First, the authors could locate Heidi’s remains and prove that the people they believe committed the murders were guilty. Secondly, they could interview new witnesses who could point to the real perpetrators. And lastly, they could show that the original investigators made substantive errors and hid evidence from the defense. The authors did all three.
One thing you hear a lot from detectives and prosecutors when confronted with the possibility that they may have convicted the wrong person is, “well, the jury thought we got it right.” In this case, their answer was they got it right in Gary’s case and blew it in Dick’s trial.
I won’t give away the ending. You can decide on your own whether or not the police, prosecutors, and jury got it right.