When James C. McCloskey entered Princeton Theological Seminary, he fully expected that his chosen path would lead him to a life as a minister in a mainline Presbyterian church. He never guessed it would lead him to prisons scattered across the nation, much less to a national reputation as a miracle worker.
McCloskey, executive director of Centurion Ministries, has helped exonerate 36 men and women convicted of murder and rape, including four on death row. Anybody who has studied the criminal-justice system knows that freeing innocent prisoners is all but impossible. Accomplishing the impossible not just once but over and over again must qualify as a miracle - right?
Ask Clarence Brandley, who was a high school custodian in Conroe, Texas, in 1980, when police arrested him for the murder of Cheryl Fergeson, a blond-haired, blue-eyed student. The school's other custodians, all of whom were white, shared opportunity, means, and motive with Brandley, who is black. But when the white custodians cast suspicion on their colleague, police arrested and prosecutors charged Brandley - despite his almost clean record and a lack of physical evidence linking him to the murder.
An all-white jury convicted Brandley, who was sent to death row. McCloskey entered the case in 1986, traveling from New Jersey to seek evidence exonerating Brandley. According to Nick Davies, who spent two years watching the Brandley case unravel while writing the book White Lies: Rape, Murder and Justice, Texas Style, McCloskey eschewed an expensive hotel and instead moved into a room over the garage of a defense lawyer's home, where he "instantly surrounded himself with piles of paper, the whole six-and-a-half-year history of the Brandley case. He hid in his room, reading and writing notes, emerging only occasionally to shoot baskets" with the lawyer or play with the lawyer's children "before diving back into the paperwork."