By Mark Terry
Laura Caldwell has written chick-lit, international suspense, and romantic suspense, but now she’s turned her considerable talents to the book she believes she was “mean to write,” a nonfiction story about a young man who was wrongly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
In the book Long Way Home, Caldwell tells the story of Jovan Mosley, a Chicago kid who in 1999 was falsely accused of and arrested for taking part in a fight that resulted in a death. Even though he claimed innocence, the Chicago police bullied the 19-year-old into a confession. Then, says Caldwell, “They sent him off to a jail that’s probably the worst in the country. It’s basically a holding cell where you wait for trial. You just wait around and try not to get killed. The system lost him and he spent five years and ten months without trial.”
Caldwell’s involvement in this is more than as just a writer. An attorney whose primary background is civil litigation, she was conducting research for a novel, The Rome Affair. She wanted to know if it was possible for someone to confess to a crime they hadn’t actually committed. Caldwell turned to friend and high-profile Chicago defense attorney Catharine O’Daniel and asked.
According to Caldwell, O’Daniel say, “Honey, it happens all the time.”
Caldwell responded that she didn’t think it would happen to her. O’Daniel responded with, “You’d last twenty minutes alone with the Chicago cops.”
Then O’Daniel told her about a case she had taken on pro bono–about Jovan Mosely, who she had met in jail while visiting other clients. Caldwell offered to help. “I wasn’t sure how I could, because I’m a civil litigator. I agreed to do some of her writing for her and drag in some of my law students. I ended up being her second chair for Jovan’s lawyer. It was an intense emotional experience. We did get Jovan a not-guilty verdict and helped him start his life over. Now he has a degree in criminal justice and is on his way to law school. He’s married and is doing well and is one of my best friends.”
Although Caldwell has turned her attention back to writing fiction with a four-book contract featuring her series character Izzy McNeil (To-date: Red Blooded Murder, Red White & Dead, and Red Hot Lies), Jovan’s case has changed her life. A scholar-in-residence and law professor at Loyola University, after helping win Jovan’s case Caldwell was approached about doing an Innocence Project at Loyola, in which attorneys look at appeals to determine if there were good causes for re-trial, often based on DNA evidence problems. “I didn’t think I had the requisite chops, so to speak. It’s not my expertise, but I thought from watching Jovan start over, how painful and difficult it was. He didn’t know how to use a computer, didn’t know how to use a cell phone, he’d been in jail over 9/11. The world is so different now than from when it was when he went in.”
As a result, she formed the Life After Innocence Project, which offers legal help and other guidance to people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and are later exonerated. The Project’s website is:http://www.luc.edu/law/lifeafterinnocence/about.html
Although Caldwell has turned her attention back to writing fiction, she says she can’t rule out doing more nonfiction. “Long Road Home was sort of a one-off, but I’m meeting people who we’re calling exonerees, so I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t do another non-fiction book, but right now I’m focused on writing this series.”
Caldwell lives in Chicago and has a house in Long Beach, Indiana. When not writing, teaching, or involved with the After Innocence Project, she likes to travel, read, work out, and see live music.