Mara Leveritt sued her state’s supreme court and won. Her fearless journalism and gripping storytelling have challenged official practices, inspired countless readers, and earned her Arkansas’s highest literary awards: two Worthen Prizes, a Laman Fellowship, the Porter Prize for Lifetime Achievement, and an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Leveritt’s investigations start with a crime, but her focus is on the response of public officials. She explores the seamy underside of the law: places where dots don’t connect, where “facts” are never simple, and where politics leave prints. Her crucible is one in which innocents suffer, villains often wear white hats, reason and morality get tested, and unlikely heroes emerge.
Actor Colin Firth portrayed one of those heroes; an unsung private investigator who opposed a police department railroading three teenagers for murders they did not commit. In DEVIL’S KNOT, the film based on Leveritt’s book, Reese Witherspoon portrayed the mother of one of the victims, a woman forced to face the possibility that the teenagers were actually innocent and that her husband might be the killer.
Publisher’s Weekly called DEVIL’S KNOT “a riveting portrait of a down-at-the-heels, socially conservative rural town with more than its share of corruption and violence.”
Library Journal highly recommended it as “an indictment of a culture and legal system that failed to protect children as defendants or victims.”
In 1998, St. Martin’s Press published Leveritt’s book THE BOYS ON THE TRACKS, an examination of another mother’s heartbreak and the official malfeasance that marked the investigation into her son’s murder. Kirkus called the book “a wrecking-ball tale of tragedy, malfeasance, and machine politics–authentically shocking and deeply unsettling.” It remains the definitive account of one of the country’s most disturbing mysteries.
Born into a family of teachers and cops in Chicago, Leveritt grew up amid stories about the mayhem of Prohibition. After moving to Arkansas in her twenties, her reporting career coincided with America’s escalating war on drugs. Her interest led her to crime scenes, court rooms, and prisons. Her writing as an editor at the Arkansas Times established her reputation as a dauntless investigative reporter.
In her newest book, THE MENA FILE, Leveritt follows a state police CID officer and an IRS investigator as they try to understand why authorities are not prosecuting Barry Seal, a known international cocaine smuggler, despite the evidence against him they had developed. These two honest cops—heroes—draw readers into the risks and, ultimately, the betrayals that undermine the war on drugs.
Since Seal’s controversial assassination in 1986, tales of his overlapping careers as a drug smuggler and government informant have fueled conspiracy theories along with his legend. While much has been written about Seal, and a film starring Tom Cruise is slated for release late 2017, the crucial last four years of his life—the years he was based in Arkansas—have scarcely been examined.
Carefully separating what is known about his case from what cannot be known, Leveritt creates a compelling and thoroughly documented account of how efforts to bring Seal’s activities to light by police, citizens, and a U.S. Congressman met official resistance at every turn. THE MENA FILE again displays Leveritt’s gift for relating important stories in a way that humanizes them and impassions readers.