Angelica M Casas recently made a video for BBC, How US police line-ups jail the innocent, which highlights Uriah Courtney’s story, a classic case of mistaken identification. The video details problems and solutions regarding the ways line-ups are conducted. Only two weeks ago, Uriah and California State Senator Scott Wiener, who also appears in the video, testified at the state capital about mistaken eyewitness identification.
Uriah and I worked together for more than three years to craft Exoneree, the story of his wrongful conviction and over eight years of incarceration before new DNA testing led to his eventual exoneration. The book shows how mistaken identity contributed to his wrongful conviction.
My collaborative memoir with Uriah Courtney about his wrongful conviction, incarceration, and subsequent exoneration is now available. Such a thrill to finally hold the physical copy of the book in my hand this week!
What if America’s judicial system, designed to protect the innocent, convicts the wrong man and sends him to prison? Uriah Courtney was incarcerated over eight years–for a crime he did not commit. But God set him free–spiritually and physically–to a new life inside his heart and outside razor wire.
Exoneree relates how badly the judicial system can go wrong, but how intensely a dedicated few seek justice. It depicts God’s protection amid the horrors of incarceration. And while it shows dark depravity, it shines with divine transformation.
A sensitive man who loved the outdoors and his family, Uriah viewed life imprisonment as a death sentence. Yet God worked through this trauma to bring him new life. Uriah’s transparent narrative transcends most jailhouse conversion accounts, as he confesses how becoming a Christian helped him cope in some ways but didn’t solve every problem.
Even after his release and exoneration through God’s providence and the efforts of the California Innocence Project, Uriah faced unexpected challenges. In his warm and personable voice, Uriah describes how focusing on Christ helps him to continue overcoming the bitterness and anger often associated with trauma.
And that’s a story everyone needs to read.
Exoneree can be purchased directly from the publisher, Wipf and Stock, on their website. Amazon offers paperback and Kindle versions.
What an incredible week! Last Thursday, I did a book party in the Chicago area. On Friday and Saturday, I spoke as the keynote for a women’s conference at Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI. And on Monday, I met with two publishers in Grand Rapids.
As I drove on Thursday toward Chicago, a tune kept running through my mind. I couldn’t think of the words or identify the song, but I thought it might begin with, “Speak to me” or something similar. When I arrived at my host’s home, I asked her about it. She’s an accomplished pianist and organist, and she immediately identified it as “Speak, O Lord.” She printed off the lyrics, which I’m pasting here so you can see how they fit with my experiences.
Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.
Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility.
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.
(Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend)
My prayer about the “Soul Rest: Resting in God” conference had long been that God would speak through me, feeding the women through His Word and planting His truth deep inside each of us. My desire was for God to shape us in His likeness that we might go forth and show His love, fulfilling His purposes for His glory.
Presentations spoke about obedience, humility, as well as developing thoughts and attitudes that contribute to rest. The radiance of God’s purity reminded me of the last line of my final presentation, about how “the pale moon of each individual I must fade in the blazing sun of the great I AM.” I had written my talks with a view to showing hearers not only God’s power and authority, but also His great love. The presentations were saturated with Scripture’s “words of power.” I had written at length about renewing our minds to focus on God’s plans and His eternal truths, His gracious promises, and our walk in the Spirit. It seemed the song had been written for me and all the women at the conference.
That Thursday evening, I enjoyed fellowship with about a dozen women at a book party, and I left the next morning for Michigan. I was able to check into my hotel room early and had lunch with a woman with whom I’ve communicated for years regarding my books published by Reformed Fellowship, for which she works. It was great to finally meet this forever sister in person, and she was extremely helpful, showing me the church and helping me set up (and tear down after the conference). I had a light dinner (I was too nervous to eat much for a few days before the conference) with conference organizers, who were a terrific bunch of friendly and kind sisters in the Lord. Then women began to arrive for the conference. What a joy to meet many I’d communicated with by email, but met now for the first time face-to face! Two I met were the wife of my editor at Christian Renewal and the secretary for that magazine.After the first presentation, I had the opportunity to chat with my editor, when he and the secretary’s husband came in to pick up their wives.
The next day, I presented twice and signed books when I had free time. While I was signing books before the last session, some women gathered at the front of the sanctuary for an informal hymn sing. Suddenly, the strains of “Speak, O Lord” wafted out to me. Tears filling my eyes, I explained the connection to the women standing by my table and we all agreed how amazingly God sometimes works in our lives. I was still signing books as women filed into the sanctuary and found their seats. The song leader asked several women to come forward and sing a song before the afternoon presentation began. Can you guess what they sang? Yes, “Speak, O Lord.”
By the time I got on stage, I was pretty emotional. I shared how God had been speaking to me through that song, although I wish I’d taken time to go through the lyrics and point it all out, as I did earlier in this post. But I’m not sure I had my copy of the lyrics with me, and I might not have made it through that process without breaking down.
Throughout the conference, God blessed me with many meaningful interactions with women, including times I prayed with some and times others prayed for me.
That Saturday evening, I was incredibly blessed to spend some time with the Christian Renewal people. For one thing, I could actually eat! But primarily because this was the first time ever that the editor and secretary and I were together. I felt like part of a visible team of which I’ve been an invisible member for years.
On Sunday, I worshiped at a Sovereign Grace URC in Grand Rapids and had lunch at the home of a couple I know. The husband had edited my book on infant loss, and the wife had edited both my published devotionals. I also spent some lovely time with a nephew and his wife who live in Grand Rapids.
On Monday, I attended meetings at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (the home of Reformation Heritage Books). After a tour of the beautiful building, I joined everyone present for their usual 10:00 prayer meeting. Then Dr. Beeke and a few others met with me to discuss a proposed project. Before I left the Seminary, I signed a contract to write with Dr. Beeke a book called Puritan Heroes. The goal is to publish this in a similar format to RHB’s popular book, Reformation Heroes. It may come out at the end of 2017 or in 2018. While at PRTS, I had the opportunity to do some research in its extensive library of Puritan resources.
That afternoon, I also met with an acquisitions editor at a different publishing house. I’ve been communicating with her for some time regarding Exoneree (a memoir collaboration with Uriah Courtney, who was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for over eight years). She and her team had already reviewed the manuscript and expressed an interest, but preferred that it be cut down by nearly 20,000 words. She wanted to hear about my January trip to San Diego, when Uriah and I met with the California Innocence Project’s book club and participated in their discussion about the memoir. She shared some promising information about possible opportunities, and I’m more eager than ever to focus on revising the manuscript and book proposal.
In God’s providence, I was able to avoid the busiest Chicago freeways during rush hour by driving down into Indiana to spend the night with a friend. She and another friend and I enjoyed a great evening together, and I was blessed with a good night’s rest. The next morning, I drove on secondary roads until I got on I-80 at Morris, IL, far past the heaviest traffic that makes me feel like a bug boxed in by trucks. I arrived safely home yesterday afternoon. My husband was already home from work and happy to see me (as I was to see him). My little lapdog, Libby, nearly licked me to death. She always mopes around and barely eats while I’m gone. My husband says she must think that if she fasts and prays enough I’ll come back home. But she ate all her food last evening.
God spoke. He was with me every step and every mile of this amazing adventure. It was exhausting, but exhilarating to see Him working through everything!
Announcing…[drum roll] a new Facebook page for the memoir project I’m working on with Uriah Courtney.
Uriah is a high-profile exoneree who was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated more than eight years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Sentenced to life in prison, he eventually was released after new DNA testing conclusively matched another man, a registered sex offender who lived with three miles of the crime scene at the time.
The California Innocence Project (CIP) took on Uriah’s case and worked with law enforcement and other organizations to obtain the new testing. CIP efforts secured Uriah’s release and his subsequent exoneration. CIP has supported and encouraged Uriah in amazing ways. They’ve posted his story, pictures, and videos of his release and his emotional reunion with his son. Because the wrong conviction was a sexual assault against a minor, Uriah was not permitted contact with his son while he was incarcerated. His son was two-years-old when Uriah was arrested. He was ten when Uriah finally hugged him again.
Last spring, I interviewed Uriah and wrote an article about him for Christian Renewal. After that, we both felt compelled to share Uriah’s story with a wider reading audience by writing his memoir. Uriah began sending me chunks of memories, which I started organizing and crafting into chapters. Through a series of amazing providences, I flew to San Diego last fall to meet him and work with him in person for a few days.
Since then, we’ve moved forward on the project and have sought publishing avenues. Both of these aspects remain works in progress, but we trust God will provide exactly the right publisher and editor in his perfect timing. We’re aiming at an August manuscript completion date.
And we’re already promoting the memoir, particularly through the Facebook page. Check it out! You’ll find more pictures of Uriah and our time together in San Diego. When you visit the Uriah Courtney, Exoneree page, be sure to “like” it. We do.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Uriah Courtney for an article that appeared in the June 25 issue of Christian Renewal. We communicated via email and that article about Uriah’s wrongful conviction and his extraordinary exoneration is posted here.
Soon after we finished our interview process, I felt burdened by a desire to spread Uriah’s amazing story to a wider reading audience. I offered to help him if he’d ever considered writing a book. He replied that a number of people had mentioned he should do it, but it seemed overwhelming to him. We both prayed about it, and we both became convicted at the same time that we should proceed.
For the next couple of months, Uriah sent me chunks of biographical information, which I reviewed and organized. As I got into the actual writing, I felt compelled to meet Uriah in person so that I could more faithfully portray his unique “voice” in this memoir from his first-person perspective. We began discussing how we might work out a meeting and praying about that possibility.
For two more months, we continued working and praying. At times each of us felt under spiritual attack, and we felt a keen need for prayer. We discussed developing a list of prayer partners to keep updated with the project so they could pray more intelligently for it.
Then Uriah mentioned meeting a couple I know (I had stayed at their home one night more than four years ago). I emailed them, just catching up, and asked if they’d be interested in being our prayer partners. The wife replied with a friendly message, informing me that they were leaving the area in two days, but would be back for only ONE WEEK out of the remainder of this year. She parenthetically suggested that if I wanted to come out to report on their church’s Reformation conference and meet Uriah, I could stay at their place.
My mind and stomach began to churn. I wanted to meet Uriah as soon as possible, but the projected dates were only a month away! Could I fly out to southern California that soon? I looked over my upcoming deadlines and contacted Uriah to see what his schedule was like for that time frame. Except for his work days, he was available. We decided to send a first message to our prayer partners, explaining our project and submitting several prayer requests, including that God would make his will plain regarding a possible meeting.
The next day, I received a reply from one of those prayer partners, expressing his desire to facilitate this meeting with Uriah by providing me with guest airline passes. It was as if God put one hand on my head to bless me, but the other behind my back to gently shove me forward and said, “Go!” I went.
When Uriah and I met, we felt an immediate connection in Christ. This enabled us to move forward with united purpose on the memoir project. Our time together was productive and encouraging. We repeatedly experienced evidences of providential blessing. Never before in my relatively-long life have I seen God’s providence so obviously in action.
We feel filled with awe. Please join us in praising God and giving him all the glory!