In the first half, Laura Caldwell, the founder/director of the Life After Innocence project, and author/attorney Leslie S. Klinger discussed how they've combined their literary and legal expertise to explore the subject of wrongful conviction which is happening with increasing frequency. Their book, Anatomy of Innocence, rose out of Caldwell's experiences at her organization, and the dozens of heartbreaking yet resilient stories that emerged from her clients who had been wrongfully jailed. In their anthology, Caldwell and Klinger paired fourteen exonerated inmates with a roster of well-known mystery and thriller writers to narrate their stories, as well as including an essay by legendary playwright Arthur Miller about Peter Riley, a man who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his mother.
While Caldwell and Klinger were not condemning the American judicial system, they pointed out that mistakes happen around 5% of the time, which amounts to over 200,000 inmates in the US prison system. The top causes for wrongful convictions include bad expert testimony, bad science, false confessions, mistaken identification, and problematic paid informants, Caldwell cited. For instance, in the case of Gloria Killian, she was falsely convicted of her husband's murder, based on the testimony of a man charged with another murder. He got time taken off his sentence by testifying against Killian. "After 17 years in prison, the Ninth Circuit overturned Gloria's conviction, and she's now involved in advocacy groups," said Klinger, who added that the Innocence Network is a good online resource.
Linguist, educator, and poet, Lisa Smartt, founded the Final Words Project in 2014, an ongoing study devoted to collecting and interpreting the mysterious language at the end of lives. In the latter half, she detailed how a person's end-of-life words often take on an eerie significance, giving tantalizing clues about the ultimate fate of the human soul, and pointing the way to a transcendent world beyond our own. Her interest in this area was sparked by her dying father, who was a skeptic, yet described seeing angels as he grew closer to death. She subsequently studied with Raymond Moody, who coined the term Near Death Experience, and has recently written about "shared death experiences."
One of the commonalities she found in dying people's vocalizations is that they seem to be having conversations with previously deceased relatives. There are also occasions of "terminal lucidity," she reported, when patients are completely unresponsive but then right before dying, they sit up and seem to be glowing, and share words of forgiveness. In one intriguing account, a 22-year old dying of cancer remarked "I know, I know. We agreed on twenty-two years this time." But when his minister asked "Agreed with whom?" the man had already slipped into unconsciousness. The dying may also use non-literal language, and more metaphoric or symbolic phrasing to describe their transitioning or other worldly experiences, she noted.