The Third Degree
Scott D. Seligman
Potomac Books (2018)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (12/18)
“The Third Degree” by Scott D. Seligman is the true story of Ziang Sung Wan and the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Washington police and a seven-year journey though the legal system. The case surrounds the gruesome murder of three Chinese diplomats in 1919 and remains unsolved today. The core of the matter surrounding this case, however, is the importance of obtaining confessions without coercion in a legal system that presumes innocence until proven guilty.
Theodore T. Wong and Ben Sen Wu went to the US in 1916 to join Chang Hse Hsie at the Chinese Educational Mission. Ziang Sung Wan traveled with Dr. Wong under the request of Wan’s mother. Raised without a father who died at a young age, Wan was spoiled and lacked direction. It was his mother’s hopes that Wan would study and get his life straightened out in the US. When Wong, Wu and Hsie are found murdered a few years later at the mission, Wan finds himself as the main suspect in a case that would provide a stepping stone for much change in the US legal system.
Whatever could have gone wrong for Wan does, and the book reads like a murder mystery and dramatic legal thriller. Meticulously researched and well-written, I found myself plowing through the pages while experiencing a myriad of emotions – from shock to sympathy and understanding to anger and exasperation. Beginning with the police hiding their suspect and interrogating him 24/7 until wrenching a confession, readers journey through what can only be described as a horrific timeline of events. From the trial and appeal to the retrial and finally an end, it’s a whirlwind of action that will leave readers shaking their heads in disbelief.
An intense and compelling narrative, “The Third Degree” by Scott D. Seligman provides thorough education and history in his text that does not bog down the actual telling of the story, but instead sparks a curiosity to learn more and I found the chronology of events and notes listed in the back of the book to be a helpful aid to my reading. Historical photos bring the circumstances and people eerily to life. A selected bibliography is also provided by Seligman for those that want to dig even deeper into the history of the case or learn more about Miranda rights and the events leading up to this landmark ruling. Highly recommended reading for history, legal and true crime buffs.