Bryan Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. From his interview with Fareed Zakaria:
ZAKARIA: I want you to tell the story of really what got you involved in this -- in this crusade that you are on. You're a young lawyer and you decide to get involved in the case of a guy, Walter McMillian, who was wrongly accused of murder and on death row when you met him, in a town that ironically was the town that is supposed to be the place where "To Kill a Mockingbird" was set, right...--Marshal Zeringue
ZAKARIA: Harper Lee's birth town?
STEVENSON: That's right. Well, I think it was that disconnect that really got my attention. When I finished law school, I was shocked to know that there were people on death row literally dying for legal assistance. We don't provide lawyers to even condemned prisoners.
And I met Walter McMillian in Alabama. He was convicted of a crime that took place in Monroeville, the very community where Harper Lee grew up and write "To Kill a Mockingbird." And that community loves the story. They romanticize it. They celebrate it. They put on plays about it. And yet they were completely indifferent to the plight of a black man wrongly accused of killing a young white woman, convicted in a trial that lasted a day and a half. The jury returned a verdict of life, but judges in Alabama, elected judges in Alabama, have the authority to override jury verdicts of life and impose the death penalty. And so the judge, whose name was Robert E. Lee Key, overrode the jury's verdict, imposed the death penalty, for a crime this man did not commit.
And it was a challenging case, because he was with many people when the crime took place. The entire black community knew he was innocent. But because they were there with him, they felt convicted; they felt condemned.
And I think what we have done in this country with mass incarceration, with excessive punishment, is not just incarcerate a lot of people, convict a lot of people, condemn a lot of people, but we have marginalized whole communities; we have demoralized whole communities.
And Walter McMillian's case tells that story. We fought for six years to...[read on]