After digging by McCloskey and Henderson convinced them of Reasonover's innocence, Centurion Ministries sought a lawyer in St. Louis to file an appeal for Reasonover. But a good-old-boys network in that city, as perceived by McCloskey, gave him pause. Instead, he retained James Wyrsch, a lawyer in Kansas City, about 300 miles across the state. Wyrsch in turn deputized law-firm associates Cheryl Pilate, a former newspaper journalist who had recently earned a law degree, and Charles Rogers, a former public defender. Using evidence gathered by McCloskey and Henderson, Pilate and Rogers finally found a federal judge who listened. The judge, a Republican former prosecutor, ordered Reasonover freed. When she walked out of prison in 1999, McCloskey greeted her, just as he had greeted Brandley when he left the death row of a different prison in a different state a decade earlier.

DESPITE HIS UNSWERVING faithfulness to the cause, McCloskey is not infallible. In 1988, he took on the case of Roger Keith Coleman, who was on Virginia's death row for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. Before his execution in 1992, Time magazine put Coleman on its cover with the headline: "This Man Might Be Innocent. This Man Is Due to Die." Coleman shared his final meal with McCloskey, who vowed to press his case to the end. He successfully petitioned Virginia Gov. Mark Warner in January of this year to reexamine the DNA evidence, but when the results came back, they showed that Coleman had deceived everyone with his protests of innocence. The news, McCloskey said, "was like a kick in the stomach."

Still, the stream of alleged injustices never seems to slow, and McCloskey's passion and persistence are so admirable that many use the word saint when accounting for his successes against a usually intractable criminal-justice system. McCloskey, on the other hand, worries about how his obsessiveness on behalf of the wrongfully imprisoned­ might have compromised his spirituality. Freeing dozens of prisoners comes with a cost perhaps greater, though harder to measure, than never marrying and never fathering children.