Picking Cotton Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and because she had studied her attacker's face intently during the assault, she later identified Ronald Cotton as her rapist with certainty. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken—that he was innocent—but Jennifer's positive identification was the evidence that compelled a jury to put him behind bars.

After eleven years in prison, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face. They forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives.

In their own words, Jennifer and Ronald unfold the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge ideas about memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.


Praise for Picking Cotton

"Picking Cotton is a brave, important book. It puts human faces on the problem of wrongful conviction caused by faulty eyewitness testimony and shows how even good people with the best intentions can get things terribly wrong."—Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D, Past President, Association for Psychological Science and author of Eyewitness Testimony

"This book will break your heart and lift it up again . . . a touching and beautiful example of the power of faith and forgiveness. Its message of hope should reverberate far beyond the halls of justice."—Sister Helen Prejean, csj, author of Dead Man Walking

"What happened in this book will change what you think of the criminal justice system in this country, and challenge you to help fix it. Each of them tells an extraordinary story about crime, punishment and exoneration, but it's their shared spiritual journey toward reconciliation and forgiveness that is even more compelling and profound."—Barry C. Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of The Innocence Project®

"Few people have done more to put a human face on issues involving wrongful convictions than Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Yet through their shared pain, they have been able to forge a friendship that most of us search our lives for."—Janet Reno, Former United States Attorney General

"[A] remarkable testament . . . powerful . . . A must-read."—Studs Terkel

Reviews from Goodreads




  • Watch the trailer for Picking Cotton

    Book trailer for the unforgettable true story of an unlikely friendship forged between a woman and the man she misidentified as her attacker and sent to prison for eleven years. In their new book, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton recount the harrowing details of their tragedy, challenging our ideas about memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.



  • Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo

  • Jennifer Thompson-Cannino lives in North Carolina with her family. She speaks frequently about the need for judicial reform, and is a member of the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission, the advisory committee for Active Voices, and the Constitution Project. Her op-eds have appeared in The New York Times, The Durham-Herald Sun, and The Tallahassee Democrat.

    Ronald Cotton lives with his wife and daughter in North Carolina. He has spoken at various schools and conferences including Washington and Lee University, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Georgetown Law School, and the Community March for Justice for Troy Anthony Davis in Savannah, Georgia.

    Erin Torneo is a Los Angeles-based writer. She was a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Nonfiction Fellow.

    The authors received the 2008 Soros Justice Media Fellowship for Picking Cotton.

  • Jennifer Thompson-Cannino
  • Ronald Cotton




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