FREE READ á eBook, PDF or Kindle ePUB ó Bryan StevensonNot since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South Though larger than life Atticus exists only in fiction Bryan Stevenson however is very much alive and doing God s work fighting for the poor the oppressed the voiceless the vulnerable the outcast and those with no hope Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story UPDATEI just stepped out of the theater seeing this filmIt s absolutely extraordinary IncredibleI can t ecommend it highly enough I hope it wins best picture of the year Best actors Best everythingBring Kleenex HONESTLYit was DEEPLY POWERFUL We must eform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are ich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent Capital murder euires an intent to kill and there was a persuasive argument that there was no intent to kill in this case and that poor healthcare had caused the victims death Most gunshot victims don t die after nine months and it was surprising that the state was seeking the death penalty in this Just Mercy Following the Road Less Taken Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption was chosen as a Group Read for June 2015 by On the Southern Literary Trail My special thanks to Jane my good friend who nominated this selection Bryan Stevenson Bryan Stevenson has written a compelling memoir with Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption This is an important work which should be ead by any individual who is concerned with the concept of Justice and incidents of Injustice that merit compassion and mercyStevenson the founder of the Eual Justice Initiative and its Executive Director is a committed advocate opposed to the imposition of the death penalty an advocate for unjustly imprisoned children and an iconic American citizen at the forefront of discussing acism as eflected in the Judicial System It is a book that will surprise you shock you and appall you Simply put ead this book one of the Ten most noted books of 2014 by the New York Times the Washington Post and numerous other literary eviews My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth the opposite of poverty is justice Finally I ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice the character of our society our commitment to the ule of law fairness and euality cannot be measured by how we treat the ich the powerful the privileged and the espected among us The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor the disfavored the accused the incarcerated and the condemned Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption evolves around the case of an innocent man Walter McMillian a black man who had a white girl friend in Monroe County Alabama framed by the Sheriff the District Attorney and convicted by a Jury for the murder of a clerk in a dry cleaner s shop Condemned to die The Sheriff and the District Attorney ignored the evidence that exonerated him Manufactured the dirty evidence that convicted him and placed him on death ow Incredibly though no law provided for it the Sheriff succeeded in McMillian being held on death ow prior to trial within the Alabama penitentiary system McMillian was held on death ow for a total of six years Walter McMillian Exonerated Although the case occurs in the home town and county of Harper Lee the community which has gained fame from Lee s To Kill a Mockingbird there is no Atticus Finch to implore the Jury For the love of God do your dutyBryan Stevenson surfaces as a eal life Atticus Finch who ultimately gathers the evidence uncovers the chicanery and political machinations that imprisoned McMillian Stevenson who was a young fledgling attorney not long out of law school He has argued cases before the United States Supreme Court five times Walter McMillian is a man to cheer for Stevenson is a man to be emulated by so many others in the Justice System But Stevenson does not gleefully celebrate his victories the exoneration of the innocent A bubbling anger appears to oil within him at the injustices he has continued to attempt to ight in those years following McMillian s exoneration That anger for me is understandable yet disturbing I have to wonder if Stevenson bears a burden that prevents him from having faith in any system esponsible for the administration of justice Whether it is difficult for him to approach any adversary opposite the court oom without feeling there is the possibility of fairnessI was a prosecuting attorney for almost twenty eight years I spoke for vulnerable populations Abused children victims of sexual assault both women and men who were undeniable victims of domestic violence I directed OUR COUNTY S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND County s Domestic Violence and Assault Program for almost four years I began the private practice of law and for nearly two years epresented children as a Guardian Ad Litem and Adults charged with Criminal Offenses The years finally took their toll I am thankfully etired The Eual Justice Initiative Office is only ninety odd miles away I owe Bryan Stevenson a vist Maybe a little volunteer work Alabama s Electric Chair currently stored in the attic of Holman Prison Sunday Morning Coming Down a Reader s Reflection I m having a most unusual Sunday morning I m listening to the music of Dale Watson led there while contemplating Capital Punishment I m having a cup of coffee I ve been thinking A lotReading takes you on strange journeys Yellow Mama was the name given to Alabama s Electric Chair Although the Alabama Legislature had authorized death by electrocution in 1923 there was no way to carry out that sentence until 1927 Kilby Prison 1922 1969 Montgomery County Alabama Alabama needed a way to electrocute Horace DeVaughan for a double murder committed in Birmingham Inmate Ed Mason an English cabinet maker by trade who was serving 60 years for theft and grand larceny built Yellow Mama The chair was painted with yellow paint from the nearby Highway Department The same paint used to paint lane indicators on State oads The inmates named the new chairWhile well built the chair didn t work too well On April 8 1927 Horace DeVaughn was the first human being to experience iding the lightning It was a long ide He prayed to Jesus for hours beforehand and accepted no food drink or cigarettes on the night of the execution In his final statement he expressed that he had been forgiven and had no hard feelings toward anyone and asked for someone to tell his mother goodbye and
THAT HIS SOUL WAS SAVED DEVAUGHANhis soul was saved DeVaughan three 2000 volt discharges between 1231 and 1242 AM At the first 40 second jolt his body surged forward a thin gray smoke flowed from under the electrode over his head and the odor of burning flesh was apparent After the second discharge flames were seen on his leg but he was still alive After the third jolt he was pronounced dead Twenty were present as witnesses included Moore s brother George who traveled from Coffeyville Kansas and claimed a piece of DaVaughn s belt as a souvenir of his visit The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery Alabama 2002Horace Devaughn was a black man Two weeks later Virgil Murphy a veteran of World War I who was convicted in Houston County of murdering his wife became the first white man electrocuted in the chair Before the state s use of the electric chair executions generally were carried out in the counties by hanging The Alabama Department of History and Archives Tuscaloosa County Old Jail where the gallows wereSo here I am listening to music by a Birmingham Alabama native singing about sitting in that chair Most of my professional career it was my duty to uphold the imposition of the death penalty No easy burden It s a lot to think about when you ask a man s jury of his peers to kill him I have the utmost espect for Stevenson though we would have been on opposite sides of the court. An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to edeem us and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our timeBryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Eual Justice Initiative a nonprofit law office in Montgomery Alabama dedicated to defending the poor the incar. Room had we ever met in oneI have tried my share of Capital cases The verdicts in each case was guilty However the Jury s sentencing ecommendation in all but one Life in Prison Without Parole Those Defendants will never walk out of prison alive Unless the Legislature changes the law egarding Life Without Parole It s uite possible The State is going broke The prisons are overcrowded There is a growing geriatric population in our prisonsThe law prevents an Alabama Prosecutor from telling a Jury that the Legislature could one day allow the possibility of parole in a Capital case Were a Prosecuting Attorney do that it would be eversible errorIn each Capital case I have tried the Judge presiding followed the Jury s sentencing ecommendation In each case I did not ask the Judge to override the Jury s ecommendation In my opinion the Jury had spoken The verdict was Just When the Jury ecommended Mercy I believed Justice had been doneThere is that one case though The case where I sought the death penalty the verdict was guilty I strenuously argued to the Jury that the only appropriate sentence was death The Jury s ecommendation was death The Judge presiding imposed the death sentence That was fourteen years ago The case emains somewhere in the seemingly endless series of AppealsThe Defendant murdered his two month old son Beat and shook him to death The child had two ib fractures on his chest The child had eight ib fractures on his back Picture holding a baby in front of you Your thumbs gently esting on his chest your fingers cradling each side of his back The weight of the baby supported underneath his arms by the flesh between your thumbs and forefingersThink of the amount of force necessary to break the cartilaginous ibs of a two month old child Consider it the same degree of force as the impact of two vehicles colliding each travelling at sixty miles an hour Consider that the baby s brain was shaken so hard that his brain swelled within his soft skull to the degree the pressure became so great his brain shut down all autonomous nerve processesThe verdict was just I have no absolutely no eason to be ashamed of the verdict I sought the sentence I sought Yet I live with the fact I asked twelve men and women to kill another human being It will bring you down But it the life denied a child who will never have the opportunity to grow up that haunts me I do believe there are cases where the denial of mercy is justBut There is always the possibility of a But I agree with almost every word Bryan Stevenson wroteSurprised Two Diverging Roads I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages henceTwo oads diverged in a wood and I I took the one less traveled byAnd that has made all the differenceRobert Frost The Road Not Taken Bryan Stevenson and I started out on the same oad Neither of us intended to become lawyersEach of us felt the compulsion to do something meaningful As Mr Stevenson decided he could not help others by continuing his studies in philosophy by philosophizing I decided not to be a teacher of history a professor of Classical languages or even a psychologist though I took my undergraduate degree in that fieldActually I attempted to bluff the Chair of the Department of Psychology into allowing me to undertake my graduate studies in his department a semester earlier I told him Well if no assistance ships are available I ll apply to Law School It seemed a good idea at the time I had been tutoring the daughter of a Law Professor in her Latin studies When the Chair smiled and answered We must all do what we must do Mr Sullivan I nodded swallowed left his office and applied for entrance to Law SchoolI was offered a Graduate Assistant ship by the Department of Psychology the same day I eceived my acceptance to the School of Law In my youthfulness and arrogant pride I turned down the offer and entered the study of LawBryan Stevenson and I also agree about the traditional Law School curriculum It is esoteric It is a tortuous experience being the victim of the Socratic method of teaching Students of the law are drilled in the art of confrontation and argument To me the desire to Win and not Lose is instilled in the student of Law And therein lies the danger of Hubris in an adversarial process where THE POSSIBILITY OF PRIDE OVERTAKES PRINCIPLEPERHAPS I HAVE GREATER possibility of pride overtakes principlePerhaps I have greater in our Judicial system that Stevenson Or perhaps I have too muchThere is the point at which we took the oad the other did notThe Tragedy of Walter McMillanThe behavior of two Monroe County District Attorneys primarily contributed to Walter McMillian s conviction and unlawful imprisonment There should be conseuences Sanctions The paramount duty of a District Attorney is not to secure a conviction but to do the ight thing As prosecutors we are lawyers just as those who are engaged in the private practice of law I sport a tee shirt that defines a Prosecutor as a lawyer held to a higher standard I personally always believed that practiced thatOn June 11 2015 etired District Attorney Charles J Sebesta Jr was disbarred by State Bar Association of Texas for professional misconduct in obtaining a conviction of Robert Graves for a Capital Murder of six people on the basis of testimony he knew to be perjured Further Sebesta flagrantly withheld evidence proving Graves innocence As a esult Graves an innocent man was imprisoned for eighteen years for a crime he didn t commitIt has been fundamental constitutional law since 1963 that prosecutors have an absolute duty to disclose evidence exculpatory to the Defendant In other words evidence which might be favorable to the Defendant See Brady v Maryland 373 US 83 83 SCt 1194 10 LEd2d 215 its opinion disbarring Sebesta the Texas Bar Association found he had violated his ethical duty by eliciting false testimony from Robert Carter a Co Defendant failing to disclose the exculpatory evidence of Carter s statement the night before trial clearing Graves of involvement in the crime eliciting false testimony from a Texas State Ranger egarding Carter s statements about Graves involvement threatening an alibi defense witness with prosecution for the same murders when he had no evidence to support her involvement apparently causing her to decide not to testify on Graves behalf failing to disclose that a prosecution witness was under felony indictment by Sebesta s office at the time of his TestimonySee 2015That S Simply 2015That s simply it should be Stevenson s blistering memoir makes me cringe Bryant Stevenson attributes many of the problems he confronted to the lingering affects of slavery Statistics do not lie That acism exists is undeniable Stating acism is the primary cause for the manner of imposition of Capital Punishment doesn t work for me I initially intended to be a Defense Attorney I cut my chops on the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti Julius and Ethel Rosenberg My legal literary mentors were Clarence Darrow Louis Nizer Melvin Belli and allen
DERSHOWITZ MY TAKE ON MCMILLIAN SMy take on McMillian s hinges on the base instinct to win at all costs The very instinct to which law students are subjected throughout their education whether that is the intent of Law Schools or not It is a weakness of human nature to submit to the will to win whatever the cost Just Mercy isn t perfect Following is an excerpt from the Sunday Review of Just Mercy Ted Conover The New York Times October 17 2014 Just Mercy has its uirks though Many stories it ecounts are than 30 years old but are etold as though they happened yesterday Dialogue is econstituted scenes are conjured from memory characters thoughts are channeled la true crime writers McMillian being driven back to death ow was feeling something that could only be described as age Loose these chains Loose these chains He couldn t emember when he d last lost control but he felt himself falling apart Stevenson leaves out identifying years perhaps to. Cerated and the wrongly condemnedJust Mercy tells the story of EJI from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution ates through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison to evolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our his.
Avoid the impression that some of this happened long ago He also has the defense lawyer s eflex of efusing to acknowledge his clients darker motives A teenager convicted of a double murder by arson is elieved of agency a man who placed a bomb on his estranged girlfriend s porch inadvertently killing her niece had a big heart William Faulkner sums it up for me Some things you must always be unable to bear Some things you must never stop efusing to bear Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame No matter how young you are or how old you have got Not for kudos and not for cash your picture in the paper nor money in the back either Just efuse to bear them Gavin Stevens Intruder in the Dust 1948ExtrasYellow Mama Dale Watson The Death of the Death Penalty DAVID VON DREHLE Time Magazine May 28 20i5 The Death Penalty Information Center The Eual Justice Initiative I often think that my grandparents and parents lived in interesting times They saw so many things come about in their day Theirs were exciting times Women won the ight to vote slaves were freed and medical advancements were plenty It was the time of The Industrial Revolution electricity the telephone planes trains and automobiles so to speak I tend to downplay the important breakthroughs of my life and times Television Computers a second industrial evolution of Technology several wars the uest for Space and The Civil Rights Movement I have always gone back and forth in my opinion about capital punishment and the death penalty The older I get the I ead the I lean to the correctness and easoning for its abolishment in our state I haven t come to this decision lightly it s a eal struggle for me Perhaps this conflict of soul is why books such as Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption interest me so muchBryan Stevenson didn t start out walking the path to where he is today While a student at Eastern University in Pennsylvania he thought he might choose a career in music or sports He majored in political science and philosophy and eventually decided on law school While a student at Harvard in the early 80 s Stevenson participated in an internship in Atlanta Georgia with The Southern Prisoners Defense Committee SPDC elating to ace and poverty During this time he spent many hours seeking appeals for inmates on death ow I wasn t prepared to meet a condemned man I had never seen the inside of a maximum security prison and certainly had never been on death ow Steve Bright the head of the project met his plane He told Bryan Capital punishment means them without the capital get the punishment We can t help people on death ow without help from people like you It came time for Stevenson to meet one of the men in a case they were working on Can you imagine this inexperienced twenty three year old driving himself to this high security prison to meet with a man convicted of murder and sentenced to die Stevenson knew little about capital punishment and had not taken a class in criminal procedure He wasn t even certain he wanted to be a lawyer or confident that he could make a difference in the ace or poverty issues that motivated him thus far It is here that his course is set and his lifetime work begins even if he was not uite aware of the full impact as yet His mission was to be to assure the inmate that he could not be executed anytime soon He meets Henry and ends up apologizing admitting he is just a law student After the initial awkwardness they go on to talk for three hours about anything and everything When it s time to leave Henry just asks that Stevenson come back again As Henry leaves the visitation oom he sings a part of the hymn On Higher Ground I m pressing on the upward wayNew heights I m gaining every day Still praying as I m onward bound Lord plant my feet on higher ground Lord lift me up and let me standBy faith on Heaven s tablelandA higher plane than I have found Lord plant my feet on higher groundAfter finishing his degree Stevenson begins taking on cases One that is documented in detail is that of Walter McMillan a black man accused of murdering a white woman There are many others In my experience of listening to the author narrate his book I couldn t help but shake my head at the wrongness of many of the convictions There were times when I had to stop listening and needed to wipe away the tears at man s inhumanity to man Mental illness children tried as adults poverty and ace played a large part in many of the cases explored Joe Sullivan was one of the cases of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole given to a juvenile Joe was just 13 when convicted in Florida to death His case did not involve a killing though it was a serious crime In preparing Joe for his appeal trial Joe wants to ecite a poem but can t emember the last line After much time he finally says Oh wait I think the last lineactually uh I think the last line is just what I said I think the last line is just I m a good person So is Bryan StevensonAnother case eviewed is that of Louis Taylor just 16 in a moment of poor choice visits a happy hour in a local hotel An article in The Washington Post The State of Euality and Justice in America The Presumption of Guilt outlines what happens after Taylor serves 42 years in prisonBryan Stevenson establishes The Eual Justice Initiative a non profit in Montgomery Alabama that epresents wrongful convictions and has won many exonerations This is a book that will stay with me It is an important book Though I listened I plan to purchase a hardbound edition for our local library It is one we should own I also plan to make a donation to The Eual Justice Initiative That just seems ight In the end it became a matter of just justice than just mercy for me That is all I wanted Just Justice Mercy is just when it is ooted in hopefulness and freely given Let me be honest I would never have picked this book to ead on my own But it was my church book club Selection This Is A Powerful Scary Book This is a powerful scary book young black lawyer takes on death penalty appeal cases in Alabama And he does this because Alabama didn t provide public defenders for those appeal cases The book delves into all the aspects of the legal system It also speaks poignantly on the effects of the larger community when someone is unjustly found guilty When evidence logic and common sense are ignored it makes everyone #Uestion Whom Could Be Next # whom could be next puts to lie the idea we are a democracy as opposed to an elitist society And don t think it s just the south My home state Pennsylvania is cited for its laws on sentencing juveniles to life in prison Even after the US Supreme Court uled life without parole couldn t apply to juveniles Pennsylvania said it didn t apply to those already convicted The State Supreme Court didn t everse that uling until 2017 Stevenson even describes his own un in with the Atlanta police department for doing nothing than sitting in his car outside his apartment I ead The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist earlier this year These two books will shock and dismay you when you ead the total incompetence or corruption of the southern police force The fact that men can be found guilty when numerous witnesses place them somewhere else boggles the mind In the past I have struggled with whether capital punishment was the correct outcome for the guilty Too often when a horrific crime happens my attitude towards the killer is to hang them high But this book has cemented in my mind that there are too many easons that euire me to be opposed to it As Stevenson says the eal uestion of capital punishment in this country is Do we deserve to kill This is a sad the eal uestion of capital punishment in this country is Do we deserve to kill This is a sad and it is not an easy ead But I still highly ecommend it The existence of the Eual Justice Initiative does provide a bit of hope that there are individuals willing to give up a lucrative job to work on behalf of Justice and Mercy They are the stonecatcher. Tory of acial injusticeOne of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching a system that treats the ich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.