"The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice" by Lori St. John

Today I welcome attorney and author Lori St. John to talk about her book The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice.

Madame Perry: Welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon, Lori. We met last year at Book Expo America and I was delighted to see you again this year. I believe you are on another book tour at the moment.

LSJ: Yes, it was lovely to meet you last year at the Book Expo and again, this year. I am promoting my book in Australia and Japan where future publication and speaking opportunities are opening up for me to share my life’s work.

MP: The Corruption Of Innocence is a powerful non-fiction legal thriller documenting your steadfast resolve to prevent the execution of an innocent man. The story begins when you are at a crossroads in your life after years of marriage, motherhood, and a career as a CPA. Shortly after you began working as a volunteer for Centurion Ministries you are assigned a case that took you halfway around the world and set in motion a journey of discovery you could not have expected. Did you have even the slightest clue in the beginning of the effect this case would have on your life?

LSJ: I had no idea what I was about to embark upon in this journey. At the time I was simply a volunteer looking to do something meaningful to serve others. Some of our most rewarding gifts in life are when we step out of our comfort zone and follow our heart through a mission. Had I known the extent of the battle I came to take on I would have possibly run the other way. However, it is these moments that define us by challenging and inspiring in us an inspired purpose. As you know, this case consumed my life for almost four years and took me on a roller coaster ride through a very powerful and corrupt legal system.

Lori St. John And Sister Helen Prejean
MP: Joseph Roger O’Dell, III had been arrested and convicted on charges of rape and murder. Though he had a criminal record prior to this, it seemed that even an armchair detective who never got closer to a crime scene investigation than a television set could have ruled him out in the beginning. Why do you think he was pursued and evidence pointing in other directions was ignored?

LSJ: This is not unusual in cases in wrongful convictions. In the United States, the National Registry of Exonerations reports 1,281 known exonerations during the last quarter century, with over 363 documented cases in which DNA was used to exonerate the innocent. This is significant. I have said, and will continue to state, that as long as we fail to address the core issues in cases of wrongful convictions we will continue to see them unfold in our country. Truth, integrity and accountability are essential components to a fair and just system. It is not unusual for prosecutors and/or Governors to seek higher political aspirations, as in the O’Dell case, where the prosecutor was seeking a judgeship nomination and the Governor sought a seat in the Senate. A wrongful conviction would look bad on their political belt. It has been documented that once the police focus on an individual, and there is a heinous crime being publicly debated, the government is pressured to solve the case. Sometimes truth is not at the core of the game. It should be. Whether a prosecutor or defense attorney, our system is designed to discover the truth- but only if we share ALL evidence, don’t intimidate witnesses and if we afford indigent defendants competent defense attorneys. It was clear in the case of Joseph O’Dell that the truth was not an issue in an otherwise wholly circumstantial case, and that personal motives by those in authority took precedence over justice.
MP: Among the harsh tragedies in this story seems to be that O’Dell was doomed on all sides. His own attorneys appeared to not be working in his best interest, the justice system didn’t seem to keen on getting the actual facts straight, and even family and friends were out to condemn him. It’s amazing he had the strength to continue fighting for himself. Can you explain how he managed even a tiny glimmer of hope through this?

Joseph Roger O'Dell
LSJ: You touch upon something quite compelling. That fact always amazed me as I walked the journey with him for almost four years. When you are innocent you never give up hope. Faith is what carries you through the hell you live on a day to day basis. It is the only thing that can
sustain the human mind through such mental torture. I was astonished at the roadblocks which challenged Joe every step of the way; not incidental roadblocks, but massive and continuous roadblocks strategically placed in the path of justice. It was mind boggling to me, a novice prior to my having studied the law and litigating as a criminal defense attorney myself. I have always thought it was not only O’Dell’s innocence, but mine, that drove this case to international proportions. I, too, always believed the truth would prevail. 

MP: During the time you worked on this case, you also were attending law school and expanding the reach of your battle against the justice system. Your commitment develops into an international cause in which you and O’Dell receive public support from Sister Helen PrejeanMother Teresa, the Pope, and both the Italian and European Parliaments. How did it feel to bring together such high profile support?

LSJ: I was functioning on pure adrenaline during that time, simply fighting with all I had to get the world to listen when the prosecutor threatened to sue the newspaper, ultimately shutting down the only median to expose the truth in the U.S.. It seemed logical to take Joe’s cause to the world. I did not look at it in that form at the time. In retrospect it was quite amazing the way it unfolded. I believe that when you have truth in your pocket and are authentic, an inspired woman on a mission is a force to be reckoned with, as the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote when they referred to my tenacity.

MP: I’m certain I am one of a huge number of people with great respect for the hard work, perseverance and sacrifices you made on behalf of Mr. O’Dell and your belief in his innocence. As I continued reading I imagined times when you were utterly overwhelmed. Still you could have pulled back and handed the work over to someone else, but you didn’t. How did you manage to keep the strength, of body and mind, to continue for so long?

LSJ: Thank you so much for you kind words. It was not easy, and yes I was overwhelmed to say the least. In the end I was mentally and physically exhausted. But as I mentioned earlier, when you are on a mission you will embrace both support and challenges equally. You don’t give up. I was determined not to give up because what I saw was so very unfair and was a distinct concerted effort to dust the truth under the carpet of the grave. The harder the opposition fought me, the harder I fought back, the greater my perseverance allowed me to find strategic ways to sustain the battle. More than once I felt I was “chosen,” so to speak, to do this work, as I did not know where my strength came from. I was simply a vehicle of justice for O’Dell and the hundreds of others who have been wrongly imprisoned for decades and decades of lost years.
Lori St. John In Front The Vatican
MP: It has been such a pleasure to have you here. I wish you much continued success, and hope you’ll return.

LSJ: Thank you for having me and for caring about this issue.
It is in fact a worldwide issue, not contained to the United States. It is my goal to continue to pursue my mission to expose the backstory of this highly controversial case, both to inspire and to educate others with the knowledge and experience I acquired over the past quarter century. Thank you using social media to reach millions of people around the world. Together we make a difference.

MP: This interview was more difficult for me than most because I wanted to ask questions to share the intensity and magnitude of the entire story without giving too much away. After interviewing many authors of true crime books I was accused once of glorifying criminal actions. I was grateful for the question so I could explain that though I'm rather curious about human behavior I had quite another motive. The authors reveal, in every book, incidents where people had an opportunity to intervene and prevent a crime but did not. A frequent excuse is not wanting to get involved, yet I believe strongly that if you see something, or know something, you are already involved.

The Corruption Of Innocence has a similar lesson. Many people had the opportunity to stop this heinous miscarriage of justice before it went off the rails, but did not. Many had the opportunity to do what was right morally, but chose to do what took the least effort.

Joseph Roger O'Dell III was an average man who went about daily life as a middle class American. He worked, had dreams of better things but dealt in reality, made some bad decisions, had regrets and still maintained a measure of optimism. In other words, he was a real, feeling human being, and he mattered.

Lori St. John did not have to spend years of her life researching law, taking apart the case against O'Dell, knocking down brick walls and going where she wasn't wanted in order to stand up for an innocent man whom she'd never met. Beautiful, intelligent, talented, and from an upper class background, she surely could have enjoyed those years playing tennis, lunching with the ladies, being a trophy wife and such. Once you've read The Corruption Of Innocence you will understand why I am one of the vast number of people who greatly admire and respect Lori St. John, and why I wanted all of you to meet her, too. 

Please follow Lori St. John on www.facebook.com/loristjohnauthor and www.loristjohn.com


Michael Draper said…
I enjoyed reading about your meeting Lori at the Book Expo in America. That sounds like a good experience. My own book is just coming out and that would be a goal of mine.
Thanks for enlightening me.
Mike Draper

PS Please stop over at my blog and See the giveaway for "The Drop" by Lehane
Madame Perry said…
Thank you for reading and for leaving your comment, Michael. Lori St. John is just a beautiful in real life as in her photos, and she's very warm and personable. Readint "The Corruption Of Innocence" after my second meeting with her certainly impressed me and I respect her very much.

I will definitely visit your site. Looking forward to your guest turn and Mme. Perry's Salon!

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