On a blazing summer morning in 1980, a 16-year-old girl named Cheryl Fergeson was sexually assaulted and strangled to death at the high school in Conroe, Tex., a nondescript little town 40 miles north of Houston. The immediate suspects were four janitors and their black supervisor, Clarence Brandley. A policeman who interrogated Brandley and one of the janitors set the tone for everything that would follow: ''One of you two is gonna hang for this. Since you're the nigger, you're elected.''
From that moment, Clarence Brandley never stood a chance. British journalist Nick Davies' White Lies: Rape, Murder, and Justice Texas Style true-crime narrative offers a relentless scenario of ineptitude, collusion, corruption, and racism.
Brandley spent nearly 10 years on death row and watched from his cell as 27 men were led away to be executed during that decade. He was finally released in January 1990. One of the ambitious and charming district attorneys who prosecuted him today holds a judgeship. Two of the white men who emerged as chief suspects in the murder of the teenager have never been arrested or questioned. B