on October 21st 2014
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Political Science
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Alabama
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
Just Mercy had been on my radar for a while but I didn’t decide to pick it up until it was the first pick for the social justice book club hosted by Entomology of a Bookworm. I listened to the audiobook. It was narrated by the author and he did a good job of telling his story.
The story begins with the author setting up a branch of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. The goal is to help people on death row have legal representation.
The case of Walter McMillan is used to explain to the readers how our justice system can go horribly wrong.
Walter McMillan was convicted of a murder even though he was far away from the murder scene with a large group of people, the person who accused him couldn’t identify him in a room, and the truck he was supposedly driving had its transmission rebuilt that day at the time of the murder.
Other cases are discussed throughout the book. Another focus of the author’s is the plight of children who were tried as adults and received life sentences without the possibility of parole. One of the people featured had been kept in solitary confinement for decades. He was caught in a loop of self harming because he was isolated and every time he self harmed he had more time added in solitary.
Sometimes helping someone is making sure seemingly logical things are done like housing young children away from the adult prison population so they aren’t raped.
The author also does a good job of explaining how entire communities are involved in cases of wrongful convictions. He talks a lot with the family and friends of the accused but I would have also been interested to see how finding out that the person in jail for a family member’s murder was innocent affected the victim’s family. There was just one brief interaction about this.
Aside from any discussion of the ethics of capital punishment there is one thing that I just don’t understand. How is it possible to mess up lethal injection as horribly as seems to be happening? I guess I have an unusual perspective on this because euthanasia is an important part of my job. It is easy to do without causing pain and suffering. Why can’t people figure it out? I guess a large part of the problem is that doctors aren’t allowed to be involved. Changing that would probably solve the issue instead of letting untrained personnel do it. But still, books and articles are published in the veterinary literature all the time. Do some study. Get it right if you are going to do it. /rant