August 03, 2011
Presumed Innocent Twenty-Plus Years Later
Posted by Christine Hurt

The second-most well known book by Scott Turow, Presumed Innocent, was published in 1987.  I read it the summer of 1990, before I went to law school.  My friend had suggested the book and willfully refused to answer me whenever I asked "Did he do it?  He did it, didn't he?"  The book struck me then as brilliant for being able to conceal whether the accused, Rusty Sabich, was the actual killer of Carolyn Polhemus, even though Sabich was the narrator, and also for an ending that surprised at least everyone I knew who was reading it at the time.  I still put the book in the same category as movies like The Crying Game and Sixth Sense, in which "I really didn't see that coming."

This summer, I was in an airport and decided to purchase an actual physical book for my flight home.  I noticed Innocent, the sequel to Presumed Innocent.  Yes, Turow had followed Presumed Innocent fairly closely with Burden of Proof, a related novel surrounding the death of the wife of Sabich's defense attorney.  In a nutshell, Presumed Innocent was made into a movie; Burden of Proof was made into a miniseries.  But Innocent actually focuses on Sabich, twenty-five years later, who calls his grown son one day to tell him that his mother died in her sleep.  Tommy Molto is back, prosecuting Sabich, now an appellate judge, for yet another murder.

As I was reading, I had to stop, download Presumed Innocent and, as they say, refresh my recollection.  In the sequel, Molto considers recovering the physical evidence from the Polhemus case twenty-five years ago and running DNA tests.  Well, surely this was covered in the first book?  No.  In the first book, the bodily fluids were blood typed, and no mention of DNA.  So, Wikipedia tells me that DNA evidence was not used in a U.S. trial until 1987, the year the book was published.  This may have been what spurred Turow to write a sequel:  Presumed Innocent is fairly dated now and doesn't hold up at all to scrutiny under today's scientific testing.  (There may be no true CSI Effect on jurors, but it sure has made this book seem dated.)  If Carolyn Polhemus had been murdered in 2011, the "gotcha" ending would have come in the middle of the book!

One last note for any other Presumed Innocent readers out there.  All three books place Sabich in "Kindle County."  To me, Kindle County is obviously Cook County, Sabich's village of Nearing is obviously one of the northern suburbs of Chicago, and the crime-infested housing project mentioned is Cabrini Green.  Other internet sites seem to agree.  However, Wikipedia says its the Quad Cities, which makes no sense whatsoever to me, if only for the reason that jurisdiction never comes up in these books, even though the Quad Cities straddle two states.  I say "wrong."

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