Later that year, using his knowledge of business procedure and choosing Prince­ton, New Jersey, as his base, McCloskey incorporated Centurion Ministries, named for the Roman soldier at Christ's crucifixion who said "Surely, this one was innocent." Pleas for help flooded in. No inmates could afford to pay, so McCloskey worked alone and lived rent-free in exchange for helping his elderly landlady with grocery shopping.

In 1986, as it became clear that McCloskey's­ unlikely production would run for more than one act - he played significant roles in two additional New Jersey exonerations that year - journalists started paying attention. A New York Times article inspired Kate Hill Germond, a businesswoman and community activist who had just followed her husband from California to New York City. Germond viewed the Times photograph of McCloskey's cramped work space and thought, I could organize him. She and McCloskey met. Though ­McCloskey could afford to pay Germond only $100 a month, she joined him. A gifted investigator and organizer, she, too, began cracking open prosecutors' faulty cases.

Paul Henderson signed on next. A Seattle Times reporter who won a Pulitzer prize for vindicating a man falsely accused of rape, Henderson left the newspaper to become a private investigator. In 1988, he began investigating for Centurion on a case-by-case basis. Soon, he and McCloskey helped free two Los Angeles men wrongly convicted of murder. Henderson joined Centurion full-time in 1996, working from his Seattle home.

"Jim's dedication to his mission and determination to find the truth combine to make him the best murder investigator in America," Henderson says. "He knows how to make anybody comfortable talking to him, from a district attorney to a crack addict. He is involved in every case being handled by Centurion. I have trouble keeping track of three or four at a time. Jim has command of every case - dozens and dozens."