Male. Education: Woodrow Wilson Law School, J.D.
Office—Vinson & Elkins, 3700 Trammell Crow Center, 2001 Ross Ave., Dallas, TX 75201-2975. E-mail—[email protected].
Journalist, media specialist, and attorney. Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA, legal writer, 1988-94; American Bar Association, contributing writer, 1988—; Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, legal affairs writer, 1996-2002; Vinson & Elkins, Dallas, TX, media strategist and spokesperson, 2002—.
Criminal Justice Journalists (president).
Champion of Justice Award, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 1995, for work investigating the law's use of paid informants; American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award, 2000; Journalist of the Year, American Board of Trial Advocates, 2000; Amicus Award, Association of Trial Lawyers, 2001, for great legal writing; Toni House Award, American Judicature Society, 2001.
(With Cyril H. Wecht and Benjamin Wecht) Cause of Death, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Cyril H. Wecht and Benjamin Wecht) Grave Secrets: A Leading Forensic Expert Reveals the Startling Truth about O. J. Simpson, David Koresh, Vincent Foster, and Other Sensational Cases, foreword by Michael M. Baden and Henry C. Lee, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Leroy Phillips, Jr.) Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched 100 Years of Federalism, Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Cyril Wecht and Greg Saitz) Mortal Evidence: The Forensics behind Nine Shocking Cases, fore-word by Henry C. Lee, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2003.
Contributor of articles to the Dallas Morning News, American Bar Association Journal, Legal Affairs, and other magazines focusing on business and legal issues.
Although he received a law degree, journalist and media-specialist Mark Curriden never practiced law but instead turned to writing about legal affairs, including several books with noted forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht. His 2003 book with Wecht and Greg Saitz, Mortal Evidence: The Forensics behind Nine Shocking Cases, looks at nine famous cases and the forensic efforts of scientists to solve them. During his career, Curriden has also used his writing as way to crusade for justice, including articles that have helped to set free two wrongly convicted death row inmates. Another of Curriden's notable accomplishments in this area has been his dedication to setting the record straight about the hanging of an innocent black man in 1906.
Curriden played a major role in righting a historical wrong in Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched 100 Years of Federalism. Ed Johnson, a black man who was wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman and sentenced to death, was lynched by a mob when the United States Supreme Court intervened with a stay of execution. Curriden's testimony in a criminal court in Tennessee helped to exonerate Johnson posthumously. "There's no doubt he was innocent," Curriden told Ken Liebeskind in Editor & Publisher. "It was the right thing to do: to have the conviction reversed."
In Contempt of Court, written with Tennessee attorney Leroy Phillips, Jr., Curriden provides an in-depth look into the Johnson case and how it ultimately influenced the United States judicial system. "Sometimes a single story can tell us more about our history than volumes of statistics," wrote Russell Neufeld in the Nation. "How slavery gave birth to lynching and lynching to America's embrace of the death penalty is revealed in its starkest clarity" in Contempt of Court.
The story of Johnson was not atypical in the American South during the several decades immediately following the Civil War, when more than 3,400 black people were lynched. In Johnson's case, a white woman in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was persuaded to say that a black man had raped her. Johnson was arrested, tried, and convicted despite the testimony of a dozen people that, at the time of the rape, Johnson was in a saloon far from where the rape took place. The judge sentenced Johnson to be executed the following week. Two of Johnson's lawyers, however, appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a then-unprecedented stay of execution from Justice John Harlan a mere forty-eight hours before Johnson was to be hanged. Harlan noted to his fellow justices that he stopped the execution because, as reported by Michael Mello in Trial, "the government's case against Johnson, and the trial itself, were so riddled with unfairness and fundamental error that a miscarriage of justice was possible, if not likely."
The morning after Harlan's order, an outraged and angry mob overcame token resistance from the lone policeman standing guard over Johnson. The mob took Johnson from his jail cell, beat him, and then hung him from Chattanooga's Walnut Street Bridge. No one was arrested or charged for the lynching. In response, the Supreme Court conducted its first and only criminal trial and brought contempt-of-court charges against the police and members of the mob. The case against the local sheriff, in particular, set precedent in the American justice system for federal jurisdiction over state courts on some issues. In addition, as noted by reviewer Vanessa Bush in Booklist, the Supreme Court's case against those involved "represented the first time in the long, sordid history of U.S. race relations that lynchers were identified, tried, and found guilty."
In addition to telling Johnson's story and the judicial aftermath, the authors take time to set the political and social scene of the South a mere forty years after the end of the Civil War. They point out that many southern politicians and other power brokers only paid lip service to the idea of justice in order to appease those in the North with whom they had business dealings. "Contempt of Court paints the most thorough picture we have of the tension between bloodlust of the white mob and the concerns of the white propertied establishment," noted Neufeld in the Nation. The authors also discuss how the southern press didn't help matters as it printed articles about keeping black people under control and suggested, if not openly stated, that white people would have to take justice into their own hands if necessary. The book also includes an appendix that lists the number of lynchings that took place from 1882 through 1944, where they occurred, and the supposed crimes for which the lynchings were carried out.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Allen D. Boyer commented that the authors "have drawn on many sources—family papers, sermons, newspaper morgues, even yellowing Secret Service files—to bring into focus this grim, critical moment in American history." In his review in the Nation, Neufeld uniformly praised the book but noted, "If Contempt of Court has any real weakness, it is the hesitancy of the authors to analyze and draw conclusions about the relationship of slavery, lynching and capital punishment that the story gives rise to. The book clearly demonstrates that the problem with the death penalty in America is not just that it is practiced in a racially discriminatory manner but rather that it owes its very existence and continuation to protecting an entire system of racial discrimination." Writing in Trial, Mello called the story "a compelling saga" and stated that the authors "tell it exceptionally well." Mello went on to note, "This is legal history at its most riveting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
ABA Journal, October, 1999, Lisa Stansky, review of Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched 100 Years of Federalism, pp. 82-83.
Booklist, September 1, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Contempt of Court, p. 40.
Editor & Publisher, March 6, 2000, Ken Liebeskind, "Dallas Reporter Aids in Reversal of a Lynch Victim's Conviction," p. 8.
Library Journal, September 1, 1996, Gregor A. Preston, review of Grave Secrets: A Leading Forensic Expert Reveals the Startling Truth about O. J. Simpson, David Koresh, Vincent Foster, and Other Sensational Cases, p. 195.
Nation, December 10, 2001, Russell Neufeld, review of Contempt of Court, p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, March 12, 2000, Allen D. Boyer, review of Contempt of Court, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, July 29, 1996, review of Grave Secrets, p. 76; August 2, 1999, review of Contempt of Court, p. 65.
Skeptical Inquirer, January-February, 2004, Kendrick Frazier, review of Mortal Evidence: The Forensics behind Nine Shocking Cases, p. 58.
Trial, February, 2001, Michael Mello, review of Contempt of Court, p. 86.*