Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of how the case left the tracks, McCloskey understood that the only way to right the wrong was to visit the white custodians over and over until the real murderer finally told the truth. In 1987, Brandley was awarded a new trial after it was discovered that the prosecution had withheld evidence and that witnesses had committed perjury. He was exonerated in 1990, and McCloskey escorted­ Brandley out of the death row prison.

"McCloskey has compiled a record that is unparalleled," says veteran attorney John C. Tucker, who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and authored the books May God Have Mercy: The True Story of Crime and Punishment and Trial and Error: The Education of a Courtroom Lawyer. "It's an extraordinary achievement in a system that ferociously resists admitting a mistake once direct appeals are over and a defendant's conviction has become 'final.'?"

All this from a totally unimposing 63-year-old.

THE ELDEST OF three siblings, McCloskey grew up comfortably in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown. His father, who managed a family construction company, taught him honesty, hard work, and a maxim: "Knowledge is power." He also insisted that the family attend an evangelical Presbyterian church. Though McCloskey did as he was told, he came to resent organized religion. During college at Bucknell University, he stopped attending church, partied, and majored in economics.

Graduating in 1964 with a career plan of going into international business (with a focus on Japan), McCloskey volunteered for the U.S. Navy as an officer, with hopes of seeing the world. He received an assignment in Tokyo. Later, he volunteered for combat in Vietnam, where he learned a lesson that would serve him well: Not everything is as it appears. He saw his commanders falsify statistics about fatalities and heard American political and military leaders mislead the public. His time in the Navy earned him the Bronze Star for valor.