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The New York Times best selling true story of an unlikely friendship forged between a woman and the man she incorrectly identified as her rapist and sent to prison for 11 years.

Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken-- but Jennifer''s positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars.

After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face-- and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives.

With Picking Cotton, Jennifer and Ronald tell in their own words the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge our ideas of memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.

Review

“Few stories of wrongful convictions have happy endings, but the one told by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino is far different. It is the powerful account of violence, rage, redemption, and, ultimately, forgiveness.” ―John Grisham

“The story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, as told in first-person voices in this gripping, well-written book, is exceptional.” ―St. Petersburg Times

“Even the most cynical reader will be impressed with Cotton''s resilience and grace.” ―The Washington Post

“Picking Cotton is the nonfiction title you must not overlook this year. It is as compelling as any fiction, yet the truth at its core will move you to tears.” ―The Louisville Courier-Journal

“Picking Cotton is ultimately an uplifting story of hope.” ―The Charlotte Observer

“Few stories of wrongful convictions have happy endings, but the one told by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Cannino is far different. It is the powerful account of violence, rage, redemption, and, ultimately, forgiveness.” ―John Grisham

“This book will break your heart and lift it up again...a touching and beautiful example of the power of faith and forgiveness. Its message of hope should reverberate far beyond the halls of justice.” ―Sr. Helen Prejean, csj, author of Dead Man Walking

“What happened in this book will change what you think of the criminal justice system in this country, and challenge you to help fix it. Each of them tells an extraordinary story about crime, punishment and exoneration, but it''s their shared spiritual journey toward reconciliation and forgiveness that is even more compelling and profound.” ―Barry C. Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of The Innocence Project®

“Few people have done more to put a human face on issues involving wrongful convictions than Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Yet through their shared pain, they have been able to forge a friendship that most of us search our lives for.” ―Janet Reno, Former U.S. Attorney General

“[A] remarkable testament...powerful...A MUST read.” ―Studs Terkel

About the Author

JENNIFER THOMPSON-CANNINO lives in North Carolina with her family. She speaks frequently about the need for judicial reform, and is a member of the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission, the advisory committee for Active Voices, and the Constitution Project. Her op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, the Durham-Herald Sun, and the Tallahassee Democrat.

RONALD COTTON lives with his wife and daughter in North Carolina. He has spoken at various schools and conferences including Washington and Lee University, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Georgetown Law School, and the Community March for Justice for Troy Anthony Davis in Savannah, GA.

ERIN TORNEO is a Los Angeles-based writer. She was a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Nonfiction Fellow.

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4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
950 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Fritz
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Travesty of Justice
Reviewed in the United States on December 12, 2019
This bottom line of this book is how unreliable first-eye witness accounts can truly be. A young woman was raped in her apartment one night and thought she had gotten a very good look at the perpetrator. She later identified him as an individual named Ronald Cotton. Mr.... See more
This bottom line of this book is how unreliable first-eye witness accounts can truly be. A young woman was raped in her apartment one night and thought she had gotten a very good look at the perpetrator. She later identified him as an individual named Ronald Cotton. Mr. Cotton spent many years in prison serving time for a crime that he didn''t commit all because he was a young black male seen in the vicinity of the crime at the time of occurrence. It wasn''t until years later that DNA evidence cleared him of this crime and the true culprit was arrested.

The interesting thing about this story is that even though he was cleared by the DNA evidence it took years to get him released because law enforcement officials were sure they had the right person even though their main witness was working to free Mr. Cotton from prison. The whole thing is a travesty of justice.

The one truly positive thing that came from this experience is that the rape victim, who was white, and the accused, who was African-American, have become very close friends throughout this ordeal and have a very special relationship. That to me is amazing and beautiful.
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Must read!
Reviewed in the United States on May 15, 2018
A total must read! This was the first North Carolina Exoneration and it’s so important that this story was told. After being raped at knifepoint, Jennifer did her best to memorize the features of her attacker. Unfortunately she identified Ronald cotton, who was not her... See more
A total must read! This was the first North Carolina Exoneration and it’s so important that this story was told. After being raped at knifepoint, Jennifer did her best to memorize the features of her attacker. Unfortunately she identified Ronald cotton, who was not her attacker. This did not come to light until 11 years later. Jennifer and Ronald went on to become friends and do speaking engagements to emphasize the importance of real physical evidence and how untrustworthy eyewitness testimony.
It’s a truly thrilling and chilling read, especially as it is completely true!
9 people found this helpful
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Thomas sivo
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Survival story for all to read
Reviewed in the United States on August 20, 2017
I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Jennifer in Amish country in Ohio. The short conversation we had was a conversation I will never forget. After reading "Picking Cotton" I am so blessed to have had this brief meeting with such an intelligent, strong and overall amazing... See more
I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Jennifer in Amish country in Ohio. The short conversation we had was a conversation I will never forget. After reading "Picking Cotton" I am so blessed to have had this brief meeting with such an intelligent, strong and overall amazing woman. I can only imagine how interesting a conversation would be with Mr. Cotton. I learned so much from reading this book. Obviously no one is perfect. To actually read the accounts of two people who were able to see beyond the horrible negative history they shared and become advocates for others and ultimately best of friends is a lesson for one and all! When I met and spoke briefly with Jennifer, as we both took a break from photographing the beautiful Ohio countryside, I left her with one statement. After reading this book, I would like to include Mr. Cotton in my statement as well. Jennifer and Mr. Cotton, thank you for sharing your incredible story. "I truly believe this world would be a much better place with more people like you in it"!

Do not just read this book. Learn, ingest and spread the word!
11 people found this helpful
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Sipaco
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Courageous, enlightening, unforgettable
Reviewed in the United States on October 11, 2019
Courageous—a young woman bravely escapes her armed rapist and goes through the traumatizing court ordeal, and later summons courage to face the man she falsely accused. An innocent young man is not believed and is sentenced to life in prison and has to survive the fear and... See more
Courageous—a young woman bravely escapes her armed rapist and goes through the traumatizing court ordeal, and later summons courage to face the man she falsely accused. An innocent young man is not believed and is sentenced to life in prison and has to survive the fear and brutality of prison. This book enlightens on so many planes that it becomes deeply thought provoking and unforgettable. Strongly recommend
2 people found this helpful
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Pamela Hannah
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
False accusation, Incarceration, Faith and Forgiveness
Reviewed in the United States on October 24, 2014
This moving true story of the North Carolina rape and false identification of the wrong suspect brings hope that the criminal justice system can finally work. Mr. Cotton''s forgiveness is a quality we should all emulate. Spending nearly 12 years in prison during the prime... See more
This moving true story of the North Carolina rape and false identification of the wrong suspect brings hope that the criminal justice system can finally work. Mr. Cotton''s forgiveness is a quality we should all emulate. Spending nearly 12 years in prison during the prime of his life for a crime he did not commit, would harden most individuals. North Carolina''s Innocence Project is also a model for other states. I''m so glad something good came after the OJ Simpson case with DNA testing. Though many mistakes are highlighted in the book that the criminal justice system originally failed to take into account, it seems that they have made amends to both Mr. Cotton and making adjustments include double blind witness and law enforcement identification. Cross racial misidentification research and DNA testing can help by investigating former cases and appeals and getting falsely accused people removed from jail and putting the correct person behind bars. North Carolina should be applauded for this and other states follow through with similar programs and reforms.

The friendship that develops between the two families is also heart warming. Going from the words and story of the rape victim and then to the words and story of Mr. Cotton through prosecution and incarceration and final release is truly an effective tool to feel the pain both experienced and the friendship that later develop as they tell their stories throughout this country and abroad. A quick but powerful read.
10 people found this helpful
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Joseph Dietrick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Restores my faith in humanity
Reviewed in the United States on March 30, 2016
Perfect read for aspiring psychologists. However, would recommend to anyone. Regardless of their career and other interests. This is a fairly easy read and very detailed. I finished the book in two days. I couldn''t put down my Kindle. Be forewarned though, it is a lot of... See more
Perfect read for aspiring psychologists. However, would recommend to anyone. Regardless of their career and other interests. This is a fairly easy read and very detailed. I finished the book in two days. I couldn''t put down my Kindle. Be forewarned though, it is a lot of reading and a lot to remember. Don''t be alarmed if you have to revisit a chapter because you can''t remember who a certain character is or if you have to re-read a page. This book does jump around a lot. In one chapter you might be in one year, but the next you''ve skipped ahead a few years or so. Also be prepared to look up legal terms. There is a section in which there is a trial and the lawyers are in a heated argument with the judge. In that section a bunch of legal jargon is thrown at the reader. Other than that, this book is worth the read, worth the buy, and will tug at your heart strings. I was sad to finish it. It''s an incredible read, one of my favorites. I am very glad I purchased it. I know I will be re reading it soon and it will very likely be just as good the second time. I hope my own novel will be this good.
8 people found this helpful
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Book/Music Enthusiast
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating and Inspiring!
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2013
In this true story, a case of mistaken identity sent an innocent man to prison for life. Fortunately, he was exonerated and received the governor''s pardon of innocence, but only after serving eleven years behind bars. The remarkable part --the heart-- of this story is that... See more
In this true story, a case of mistaken identity sent an innocent man to prison for life. Fortunately, he was exonerated and received the governor''s pardon of innocence, but only after serving eleven years behind bars. The remarkable part --the heart-- of this story is that Ronald Cotton forgave his accuser, Jennifer Thompson, who had picked him out of a lineup, insisting he was the man who had brutally raped her. Her mistake was understandable, because Cotton and the actual rapist, Bobby Poole, were virtual lookalikes. DNA testing, which wasn''t widely available at the time of Cotton''s incarceration, provided the proof that finally freed him. Amazingly, he and Thompson, who was deeply remorseful, became friends. Together, they are now advocates for "The Innocence Project," a nonprofit organization that works to free the innocent through DNA testing. CBS''s 60 Minutes reported this story in 2009, the year the book was released as a hardcover. A softcover, with photos, is the one I have. Ronald Cotton''s ability to forgive Jennifer Thompson for those eleven lost years is truly inspiring.
6 people found this helpful
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William Whipple III
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Moving on up
Reviewed in the United States on March 5, 2010
This case provides a graphic demonstration of how false convictions can be obtained based on eyewitness identifications. For a legal summary, see Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, U.S.... See more
This case provides a graphic demonstration of how false convictions can be obtained based on eyewitness identifications. For a legal summary, see Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, U.S. Department of Justice, 1996, pp. 43-44.

Two white women were raped. One identified a black man named Ronald Cotton from a photo array and subsequently in a lineup. The second identified another man in the lineup. Ronald was tried for the first rape and convicted based almost exclusively on Jennifer''s testimony; evidence of the result of the second lineup was excluded.

The conviction was overturned on appeal on grounds that the jury should have heard about the results of the second lineup. After follow-up (coaching?), woman 2 identified Cotton also. The second trial was for both rapes, and again Ronald was convicted based on the eyewitness testimony. Evidence (account of a fellow inmate) that another inmate had spoken of committing the rapes was excluded.

The attorney filing the appeal of the second conviction failed to contest the exclusion of the evidence about the other man; the conviction was upheld.

In subsequent proceedings, two new attorneys in the case requested DNA testing. The results exonerated Cotton and produced a match when compared to the DNA database for violent criminals - to the other inmate who had spoken of committing the rapes.

In 1995, Cotton was released after spending over a decade in prison and officially pardoned by the governor of North Carolina.

The foregoing narrative is told in "Picking Cotton," which was jointly authored by the first rape victim (Jennifer Thompson-Cannino) and the defendant (Ronald Cotton), but the gripping part is not the legal action - it is the personal stories of these two people, both of whose lives were changed forever.

The most remarkable part of the story is what happened afterwards, when Jennifer and Ronald reached out to each other and became fast friends. Years later, Ronald and Jennifer would be talking at a soccer tournament (children of both were participating) and one of the other moms asked, "How do y''all know each other?"

I loved Ron''s response: "We go way back." Maybe there is hope for the human race after all.
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Top reviews from other countries

fayeoherl
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fantastic book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 8, 2016
Enticing read. A really incredible story of miscarriages of justice and redemption. Highly recommend.
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N. Clark
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very interesting and easy read. Thought provoking and a must read for ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 13, 2015
Very interesting and easy read. Thought provoking and a must read for anyone into psychology. Raises a lot of issues about mistaken identity.
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janet knight
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Picking Cotton
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 15, 2014
Saw the documentary about the story, and thought i had to read it in depth for myself. Loved and couldn''t put it down until i had finished reading. High recommend.
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lam143
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 13, 2013
Fantastic, heartfelt book, what a great read, sympathies with both parties. Well worth the money,time to read. Exceptional true story
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Tikkeni
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of the most wonderfull books I''ve read in a long time..
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 17, 2011
I heard about randomly over the tv. Bought it with out really knowing slot about it. Started reading and couldn''t put it back down.. Loved every page of it. I would totally recomend this book.
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