I continue to be amazed by three-sigma people. Those are people who reside in a world at least three standard deviations beyond the mean. More specifically, they are among the top (or bottom) 0.3% of their field. They may be three-sigma athletes, artists, dancers, mathematicians, beaders, entreprenuers, fire investigators or origamists. I don't care so much about their particular field of achievement as I do about their capacity for extreme performance.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, therefore, to learn of a group of people who are three-sigma book reviewers. A substantial number of bibliophiles review books on Amazon, voluntarily, as an avocation. These people seem to compete with one another to be ranked high as an Amazon reviewer. The ranking seems to be based on number of reviews, and some ratio of positive to negative feedbacks on their reviews. The highest ranked (classic) reviewer is Harriet Klausner with 22,694 reviews. Lawrance M. Bernado is second, currently at 6,666 reviews.
Some of these reviewers leave their email address on their Amazon profile page. I browsed through the list of top 100 hundred reviewers, found a few that I thought would be interested a book such as The Skeptical Juror and The Trial of Cory Maye, and sent each an email asking if they would be interested in reviewing my book. Surprisingly, about half of those I wrote said they would indeed be interested. Most of those noted their large backlog of reading, but all provided a postal address. I sent each a review copy of my book.
Two days after sending the books, I received an email from one reviewer saying he had read the book and posted his review. Had my chair not been properly constructed, I would have fallen over backwards. I went to Amazon and reviewed his review, and the amazement was complete. Not only had he read the book, he had comprehended it and was able to speak to the details. He had also written an extensive review in seemingly less time than I will be able to write this preface.
I am of course pleased by his 5 star rating. The Amazon reviewers take pride in their review being trustworthy, and don't provide good reviews without cause. Many are reluctant to provide poor reviews, and avoid that by declining to review works they didn't care for. Therefore, simply having a review by a highly-rated reviewer is generally a compliment all by itself.
But beyond the result of the review, I am amazed that such people exist in such numbers. Imagine yourself receiving a book in the mail, reading it in its entirety, understanding it in detail, and posting an extensive review before you go to bed. Then imagine yourself doing that another 1500 times, as has Dennis Littrell, the person who reviewed my book for Amazon, and currently the 34th highest classic reviewer on the Amazon list.
I am impressed, and I appreciate his time and talent. I present his review below, but it would be better to read it in its original presentation here, then mark it as "Helpful" if you find it to be so.
5.0 out of 5 stars A very readable and different way to expose a miscarriage of justice,
August 31, 2010This review is from: The Skeptical Juror and The Trial of Cory Maye (Paperback)It is evening, the day after Christmas, 2001. The place is Prentiss, a small rural town in Mississippi. The police have planned a drug bust and pull up to a small yellow duplex. There are eight of them. They have it on reliable authority that there are drugs in one of the duplexes. Just to be safe they have search warrants for both apartments. They fan out and more or less surround the premises. What happens next is in great dispute; however the result is a dead white police officer named Ron Jones and a black man named Cory Maye who would be beaten and arrested, and then tried and convicted of capital murder, and then sentenced to death.
What interests J. Bennett Allen about this case is his belief that Cory Maye is innocent and that the police lied during the trial in order to get the conviction and to cover up their ineptness. This is a story right out of "The Innocence Project" but with a twist. What Allen does after an exhausted study of the trial transcripts is to imagine that he is one of the jurors. He writes a fictional narrative about the jury deliberations. This is the central part of the book. He follows that with his personal reconstruction of the events leading up to and concluding on the night of December 26, 2001 based on his understanding of the evidence.
The key question that the jury had to answer was, Did Cory Maye know that when he fired his Lorcin .380 pistol he was willfully aiming at a police officer? The actual jury found that he did; but Allen presents a most convincing case that Maye was frightened and didn't know who he was shooting at. You might want to read this most interesting book and decide for yourself.
At any rate, I want to make some observations: One, this is a sad and totally avoidable tragedy that is a direct result of the so-called "war on drugs." It's not just another drug bust gone wrong, but is in a larger sense an example of the continuing racial divide that exists in the state of Mississippi and elsewhere in America. Had Cory Maye been white there is little doubt in my mind that the charge against him would have been something like manslaughter and not capital murder. This case is a prime example of the continuing unequal justice before the law that is a mainstay of Southern jurisprudence.
Two, had Cory Maye had the financial means to hire competent counsel, the malfeasance of the police would have come to light during the trial and the charge of capital murder would have been unsustainable.
Three, there is a feeling among some law enforcement officers that is okay to misrepresent the evidence against someone if that someone is certifiably a "bad guy" in their judgment. This is a natural human failing: we know so-and-so has committed other crimes and has done bad things for which he has not been held responsible. Therefore it is morally justifiable to "augment" the evidence or even to plant some evidence at the scene in order to ensure a conviction. This behavior is further rationalized by considering that should this "bad person" go free, he might commit further crimes.
Of course legally this is all gravely in error and against everything the law should stand for. In the case of Cory Maye it was obvious to the judicial system of Prentiss, Mississippi that he was (1) illegally in possession of a handgun; (2) an unemployed man living in the apartment of his girlfriend while she went to work at a chicken processing plant; (3) that he smoked marijuana; (4) he was a young black male; and (5) the man he shot was a white police officer.
Allen is to be commended for bringing the facts of this case to light and for his diligent work on the evidence and even for his imaginings on what might have taken place during jury deliberations. The book itself is well and engagingly written. I especially like the way he presented his "Alternate Scenario."
There is nothing in the practice of law and the administration of justice worse than the conviction of an innocent man. Thanks to the work of journalist Radley Balko, whom Allen acknowledges as being most instrumental in bringing this miscarriage of justice to public scrutiny, and to Allen himself and others, it is likely that Cory Maye will get a new trial. Stayed tuned.