Memoir writer and essayist Mardi Link will take the Kirkbride Hall stage on Oct. 7, in Traverse City, when she appears with guest host Ron Jolly of WTCM Radio. Link of Traverse City has soared in popularity with her critically acclaimed memoir, Bootstrapper, and her gripping nonfiction accounts of Michigan true crimes. Her most recent, Wicked Takes the Witness Stand, has risen to #12 on the New York Times Crime and Punishment Bestseller List.
On Wednesday, Link will talk about her newest memoir, Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, and Wicked. The event is co-sponsored with the History Center, which will receive 100 percent of net proceeds. Ron Jolly caught up with Mardi for a MyNorth interview.
Q: Your book, Wicked Takes the Witness Stand, brings into question the behavior and judgment of top law enforcement officials resulted in five men wrongly imprisoned. Was your trust in public officials affected by this story?
A: Yes. I do not doubt that the U.S. has the best justice system in the world, but it is also administered by human beings, and human beings have failings. My opinion on that case is that a good many gears in the justice system failed the men accused of murdering Jerry Tobias. The prosecutor used poor judgment, witnesses lied, judges were not impartial, and some police officers were power hungry and refused to admit their mistakes. This is certainly not an isolated situation, and that is what shakes my trust the most.
Q: The heroes in this story were attorneys who fought tirelessly to free the wrongly accused. Can you contrast their motivations with those of the prosecution team intent on convicting those men?
A: It was rewarding for me to give these attorneys their due. In my mind, they were heroes. They sacrificed their practices, their health, and certainly their emotional well being in order to right a wrong and were ultimately successful, though it must have seemed to their clients like that justice was exceedingly slow in coming. They could not not work to free the men. That was their character. In contrast, the People continued to prosecute, or try to, long after it was obvious to most the men were innocent. Since I did not speak to the prosecution’s side, any insight by me on their motives would be conjecture. Was it ambition? Pride? Avarice? Or all the above? Perhaps we’ll never know.
Q: Of those men who lost years of their lives serving time in prison, what were their feelings when their names were cleared and they were released?
A: They are bitter, even today, at being robbed of their lives, their businesses, their marriages.Understandably so. What is perhaps most difficult is that even today, if you ask around in Gaylord, many people believe the five men simply beat a murder rap on legal technicalities, and that they’re guilty. Don Heistand paid the ultimate price. His only “crime” was to work part time at a butcher shop for two weeks during deer season in 1986. He was a Type 1 diabetic and prison ruined his health. He died three months after the book was published. He was 57, and left behind a wife, two sons, and a granddaughter who he absolutely doted on.
Q: Was this case closed, even though the murderer has never been identified? Has anyone been punished for sending innocent men to prison?
A: The case is officially still opened, but dormant. And no one has been sanctioned, lost their job, been fined or prosecuted for any of the wrongdoings against the men falsely accused.
Q: You’ve authored three true crime books and two memoirs. Any fiction in the future?
A: Yes! There’s a short story collection, Bob Seger’s House and Other Stories, being published by Wayne State University Press’ Made in Michigan series next May. My story, “Card Night,” will be included. It’s my first published fiction, but hopefully not the last. I do have the typical novel in a drawer that every writer has, and I’ve always thought I might go back to it some day.
Q: My wife just finished The Drummond Girls and immediately made room in our fall vacation for a visitto Drummond Island. What’s your book doing for tourism on Drummond Island?
A: Oh, I hope you love it up there. Literary tourism! I love it. I’ve heard from readers who have visitedthe cemetery in Isadore, the little business district in Good Hart, so I’m thrilled readers are headed up to Drummond Island, too. A couple of the fishing camps have reported groups of women showing up without tackle boxes or boats. The owners couldn’t figure it out at first, but soon learned they were book clubs, hosting their gatherings on the island. I’m tickled to death about that.