An Expendable Man by Margaret Edds

An Expendable Man by Margaret Edds
Feb. 25, 2004

“An Expendable Man” by Margaret Edds does a superb job of telling the story of how an innocent man, Earl Washington, was put on Virginia’s death row and ended up spending 18 years in prison. I know she does a superb job because some years ago, when Washington had still not been pardoned but when things were looking hopeful, I researched this case and wrote a series of articles about it in the Culpeper News, the small-town paper in the town where Washington had been tried and convicted in January 1984.

Edds is a professional reporter and writes like one, with very little commentary on the facts. As a result, the facts speak very powerfully for themselves. And what commentary Edds does offer I agree with. But I would quibble a bit. The main point she tries to make is that the errors made in this case were not unusual but a part of the system, that while a series of extremely lucky circumstances led to Washington’s exoneration, there are likely many innocents who will never be freed. So far, I agree. But Edds also suggests that no one did anything really egregiously wrong, that everyone just did their job in a flawed system and the result was tragic.

I beg to differ. Earl Washington was set up by the cruel and dishonest acts of the police and prosecutors. One of the policemen responsible for what happened in 1983 and 1984 is currently Sheriff of Culpeper, and Edds goes very easy on him. Read my articles and Edds’ book and see what you think.

Yes, we need to reform the system, but we also need to hold individuals responsible, and ultimately this book has that effect. A brilliant job of reporting!