First line: "I wasn't prepared to meet a condemned man."
With all the suspense of a Grisham legal thriller, attorney Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, offers up a true narrative about his work with the people most desperately in need of legal assistance.
Just Mercy centers on the story of Walter McMillian, a young, black entrepreneur who was convicted of a murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The evidence supporting McMillian’s claim was overwhelming, yet he was sentenced to die in the electric chair. When Stevenson takes on McMillian’s cause he discovers a case steeped in conspiracy, misconduct, racism, even adultery, proving that fact can often be more harrowing than fiction. The tale also involves a disturbing element of irony—the 1986 murder took place in Monroeville, Alabama, childhood home of Harper Lee and the basis for her setting in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Interspersed with McMillian’s tragedy are short vignettes of other cases Stevenson and the EJI undertake: children sentenced to life in prison, thirteen and fourteen-year-olds placed in adult correctional facilities, the mentally ill on Death Row. Stevenson never discounts the actions of his clients that lead them to their circumstances, but he does present the whole individual and reminds readers, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Stevenson’s deft story-telling skills will keep readers engrossed in McMillian’s fate, and his passionate dedication to the men, women and children he represents will illustrate a heart-wrenching side of the American penal system that is too often and too easily ignored.
Just Mercy is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780812994520) from Spiegel & Grau. There is also an unabridged audio version (ISBN: 978-0553550603), narrated by the author, from Random House Audio.