Bringing Ben Home: A Murder, a Conviction, and the Fight to Redeem American Justice (Hardcover)

Bringing Ben Home: A Murder, a Conviction, and the Fight to Redeem American Justice By Barbara Bradley Hagerty Cover Image

Bringing Ben Home: A Murder, a Conviction, and the Fight to Redeem American Justice (Hardcover)


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How states are making their legal systems more equitable, seen through the story of a Black man falsely imprisoned for thirty years for murder.

In 1987, Ben Spencer, a twenty-two-year-old Black man from Dallas, was convicted of murdering white businessman Jeffrey Young—a crime he didn’t commit. From the day of his arrest, Spencer insisted that it was “an awful mistake.” The Texas legal system didn’t see it that way. It allowed shoddy police work, paid witnesses, and prosecutorial misconduct to convict Spencer of murder, and it ignored later efforts to correct this error. The state’s bureaucratic intransigence caused Spencer to spend more than half his life in prison.

Eventually independent investigators, new witness testimony, the foreman of the jury that convicted him, and a new Dallas DA convinced a Texas judge that Spencer had nothing to do with the killing, and in 2021 he was released from prison.

As Spencer’s fight to clear himself demonstrates, our legal systems are broken: expedience is more important than the truth. That is starting to change as states across the country implement new efforts to reduce wrongful convictions, and one of the states leading the way is Texas.

Award-winning journalist Barbara Bradley Hagerty has spent years digging into this issue, and she has immersed herself in Spencer’s case. She has combed police files and court records, interviewed dozens of witnesses, and had extensive conversations with Spencer, and in Bringing Ben Home she threads together two narratives: how an innocent Black man got caught up in and couldn’t escape a legal system that refused to admit its mistakes; and what Texas and other states are doing to address wrongful convictions to make the legal process more equitable for everyone.

By turns fascinating and enraging, personal and provocative, Bringing Ben Home is the powerful story of one innocent man who refused to admit that he was guilty of murder, and how his plight became part of a paradigm shift in how the legal system thinks about innocence as it institutes new methods to overturn wrongful convictions to better protect people like Ben Spencer.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty is an award-winning journalist at The Atlantic and formerly of National Public Radio. She is the author of the New York Times–bestselling Fingerprints of God and Life Reimagined, and her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Vogue, and The Christian Science Monitor. She has received the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship in Science and Religion and a Knight Fellowship at Yale Law School. She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C.
Product Details ISBN: 9780593420089
ISBN-10: 059342008X
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: August 6th, 2024
Pages: 464
Language: English
Praise for Bringing Ben Home:

“Hagerty takes readers through Ben [Spencer’s] story, from the rushed investigation to the uphill battle to prove his innocence. When describing each piece of the process, such as the use of jailhouse informants, Hagerty draws on examples from other exonerees' cases …including interviews with many people involved in Ben's case and excerpts of his letters from prison. Bringing Ben Home shines a wrenching, difficult spotlight on the U.S. legal system's potential for extraordinary failure...This could be a great read for YAs interested in law and justice.” Booklist

“A thought-provoking cultural discussion of wrongful convictions based on race. … The author’s narrative persuasively demonstrates how deeply embedded racism is in the fabric of the American criminal justice system … A stirring account of a legal travesty that effectively reveals a rotten core within the justice system.” Kirkus Review

“Ben Spencer’s story is beautifully told by a gifted and determined journalist: There is great suffering, injustice, corruption, waste, and, in the end, redemption. Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s vivid account of his nightmare is simply unforgettable.” John Grisham, author of The Exchange
Bringing Ben Home explores the ways our legal system punishes the innocent and ignores its mistakes. This book is a revelation to anyone interested in justice, truth, and humanity.”Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

“Barbara Bradley Hagerty's painstaking reportage shines through with clarity, and that clarity beckons the reader to reevaluate justice, innocence, and equity in America.” Caleb Gayle, author of We Refuse to Forget
“In the tale of Ben Spencer's fight for freedom, we get righteous anger, unlikely grace, and Hollywood twists. But we also get that rarest bird in the annals of mass incarceration: hope. I was blown away.”Maurice Chammah, author of Let the Lord Sort Them

“As someone who spent three decades as a trial court prosecutor, I was horrified by the casual callousness that led to many of the wrongful convictions detailed in this important, beautiful, and infuriating work.” Glenn Kirschner, MSNBC legal analyst

“As a member of the San Antonio Four who served 13 years in a Texas prison for a crime that never occurred, this book dredged up a lot of feelings and memories – frustration, helplessness, and finally hope when someone on the outside believes you.” Anna Vasquez, director of outreach, Innocence Project of Texas

“A spellbinding story of resilience and faith. It’s a fascinating account of a broken justice system and what people are doing to help mend it.”—James Martin, S.J., author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
“Bringing Ben Home achieves a rare feat: simultaneously infuriating, fascinating, and inspiring. The author’s personal commitment to her subject and his family filled me with awe. This is a luminous book.” Allison Leotta, author of The Last Good Girl

"Barbara Bradley Hagerty brings her keen eye to the phenomenon of wrongful convictions in this beautifully written and accessible exploration of an injustice in Texas. As she makes clear, when an innocent person is convicted, the harm transcends that individual's suffering and affects all of us.” Daniel Medwed, author of Barred: Why the Innocent Can't Get Out of Prison
“There are valuable lessons here about the reasons for wrongful convictions and the immense difficulty of obtaining justice. With drama, insight, and conviction, Barbara Bradley Hagerty describes how a remarkable team proved Ben Spencer’s innocence and won his freedom.” Stephen Bright, Yale Law School, veteran death penalty attorney