A few summers ago, I read a book titled Just Mercy, written by a lawyer named Bryan Stevenson. The New York Times best seller tells of Bryan Stevenson’s work representing people that been victims of an unjust, justice system. The book shows the grueling task that Stevenson, the young, black, Harvard Law graduate had to go through to insure that his clients have a fair trial in the South. The book tells the stories of several different of his client ranging from people that are mentally ill, to abused children that were sentenced to life in jail for their crimes.
The person that the book focuses on, is a black man named Walter McMillian who was on death row for the murder of a young white women in Alabama that was killed in an armed robbery at a gas station. The only evidence that the prosecution had against him was a statement from a man that was also in jail awaiting his trial where it was likely that he would face the death penalty too. After he agreed to testify that it was McMillian that killed the women the system cut a deal with him that gave him 30 years plus parole instead of being executed because of his testimony against McMillian. After the trial, in an interview with 60 minutes, the man said that the story he told under oath was completely untrue and that an Alabama Bureau of Investigations agent pressured him to go along with their story to escape getting the death penalty himself.
On top of there being no evidence that he did this, there was lots of evidence that he truly did not kill that women and that he was nowhere near where it had happened. He was arrested 7 months after the murder. There were over 12 people that gave statements saying they were with McMillian all day at a church fish fry. McMillian says that he has never even been to the town that the murder happened. Bryan Stevenson says that the reason that McMillan was accused of this was because he was having an affair with a white woman which was brought up many times during his trial. The trial only lasted a day and a half. It had a jury with 11 white people and one black man and after the jury sentenced him to life in prison, the Judge overruled it and gave him the death penalty. Bryan Stevenson took McMillian as a client after he was already on the death row and after appeal after appeal, all charges were dismissed because of lack of evidence and McMillian was a free man after 6 long years on death row. It was 1993 when McMillian was freed. One of the things that has grabbed the attention of people in this story was that if the judges didn’t overrule the jury’s life in prison sentence and make it the death penalty, the case would not have got the attention of Bryan Stevenson and McMillan would likely never been freed.