In lieu of a Friday post (since I will be out of town for the holidays and unable to respond), I’m posting a book review of my author friend Deb Brammer’s newest book, Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story.
By Adam Blumer
Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story by Deb Brammer with Steve Brennecke, CreateSpace, November 2013, 350 pages, $13.95.
Novelist Deb Brammer and former attorney on the case Steve Brennecke retell the inspiring true story of Mary Weaver in Edges of Truth. Mary, an Iowa babysitter, was accused and convicted of first-degree murder in the mysterious death of eleven-month-old Melissa Mathes on January 22, 1993.
Written with effective fiction technique and based on meticulous research of court records, the book traces the story of Melissa’s mysterious death and Mary’s journey to prove her innocence through the legal system—first in a mistrial, then a retrial that ended in a first-degree murder conviction in May 1994, and then the appeal process.
The book does a terrific job of grabbing the readers from the baby’s death on the first page and leading them through the police intimidation and accusations, the arrest, the sometimes-confusing and coldhearted practices of the legal system, the agendas of defense witnesses, courtroom politics, monotonous days in prison, the pain of separation from family members, and the trial of Mary’s faith.
At the heart of the Mary’s conviction is a mysterious skull fracture, previous head injuries, and controversy surrounding whether those combined problems led to the baby’s death. Also in question is the time frame in which the terrible accident or intentional murder occurred. Conflicting medical testimony from so-called experts only adds to the potential confusion of this multifaceted case, but the authors do a terrific job leading the reader through the details and showing both sides of the argument with sensitive balance.
Sometimes the testimony, which appears verbatim from court transcripts, borderlines on being too technical, but the authors deftly explain the more technical details in ways readers can understand. Ultimately they show that no one should have convicted Mary of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The book also excels in showing the human side of this drama by highlighting how this terrible tragedy affected everyone involved. The reader can’t help but grieve with Mary and Steve, her attorney, and feel both anger and amazement at every legal twist and turn of this amazing story.
Mary’s unfair mistreatment from the very beginning outraged me. Based on words and actions from law enforcement officials, she was no longer considered innocent until proven guilty. Once she was arrested, I could hardly put the book down. I wanted to know whether she would finally get justice—and the book doesn’t disappoint. At times reading about her life in prison while she waited for a break became a tad tedious—but this effect helped me better feel what Mary must have experienced at the time: living in limbo, not knowing whether she’d ever be home with her family again.
This book affected me in several profound ways. The story had a chilling effect when I learned a babysitter could be convicted of murder with no direct forensic evidence tying him or her to the crime. As the authors point out, a caregiver never wants to be alone with a child who dies. The Mary Weaver story is Exhibit A.
Though defense witnesses frequently have good agendas, such as stamping out child abuse, in this case the fervor of their crusades led jurors to convict Mary based only on their controversial theories. And really, no one ever had anything but theories from the very beginning; there was no hard, irrefutable evidence putting Mary behind bars. Ultimately, this story filled me with dread because really, Mary Weaver’s ordeal could happen to any well-meaning American who is at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, it could happen to you!
In the epilogue, the authors show how the outcome of Mary’s case affected more than her and her family. It caused a reversal in thinking on the topic of shaken baby syndrome, which opened the prison bars for other innocent caregivers.
This book reads like a good mystery, and readers will have a hard time putting it down. The authors don’t shy away from including faith elements in the story—in particular, showing Mary’s faith journey. The book might seem a tad religious to average readers, but I don’t think the religious content, which is never preachy, would turn them away.
Edges of Truth is an eye-opening true story that exposes the dangers of any legal system when it is swayed more by “expert” opinion than by facts. Anyone who believes in “innocent until proven guilty” needs to read this book—and beware. Readers everywhere will be both stunned by Mary’s trial of patience and inspired by her journey of faith.
This riveting story about truth winning the victory in spite of nearly impossible odds will arrest readers from the first page and hold them captive until the stunning verdict. This rare glimpse into the inner workings of a murder trial held me spellbound. I couldn’t put the book down, and I highly recommend it.
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