Since 1973 at least 155 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence was uncovered. Eight people have been exonerated in Alabama including Walter McMillan among those found not guilty of crimes that originally put them on Alabama death row. The astounding error rate in capital punishment is a serious indictment against the death penalty. Stevenson in his new memoir, Just Mercy, describes his early days growing up in poor and racially segregated settlements in Delaware and how he became a lawyer and represents those who have been abandoned. Several incidents fuelled Stevensons drive to challenge racial bias and economic inequalities in the U.S. justice system and helped exonerate Walter McMillan on a death row convicted of killing Ronda Morrison in Monroeville in 1986. It took six years to get the court to ultimately overturn his conviction. Nevertheless, Walter McMillans Trial was injustice at play (Stevenson 24).
McMillan and Myers
Myers testified for the case implicating McMillan in the commission of the crime because at the time his case was pending (Stevenson 33). Myers recanted his testimony after he was incarcerated while McMillan`s case was pending in court. He told the appellant trial counsel that his testimony against McMillan was false. Myers additionally said that he knew nothing about McMillan’s crime and that when the offense was committed, he was not present and that some law enforcement officers had told him what to say and due to pressure from the officers, he falsely testified against McMillan. Myers was the key witness in McMillan`s prosecution and without his testimony, the state could not have obtained a conviction. Myer’s credibility was the most important issue in the case. However, the evidence of Joe Hightower and Bill Hooks, Jr Hightower testified that sometimes up in the morning McMillan truck was seen at the Jackson cleaners on the day the crime was committed (Bedau 82).
Evidence Against McMillan
The evidence against McMillan was circumstantial, and his defense consisted of an attempt to cast doubt on the credibility of the witnesses particularly Myers and to establish an alibi. Prior to the appellants trial, Myers had been sent to Taylor Hardi Secure Medical Facility for a psychiatric examination to determine his competency to stand trial and the hospital records proved that Myers told four hospital staff doctors that he was being pressured by police officers to testify falsely against the appellant and that he knew nothing about the crime. He stated that his prior confessions about McMillan’s crime were bogus and coerced out of him by the police by keeping him isolated physically and psychologically. A taped telephone conversation between Benson, a state investigator, and Myers in which Myers incriminates McMillan did not show Myers contention that the officers and particularly Benson suggested facts of the case to him or told him what to say. It was further established that Myers said to his attorney George Elbrecht that he did not want to testify against the appellant because he would be lying (Stevenson 37).
Evidence from Joe Little
Evidence was further obtained from Joe Little, a former inmate at the Monroe County jail who testified that before the trial, Myers had told him that he was going to testify falsely against the appellant. Moreover, there was evidence that Myers was under pressure in prison to recant his testimony. He testified and said that the prison authorities had told him that there was a contract for his life. (Bedau 92). The state did not use Miles Jackson as a witness at the McMillan trial, and he did not disclose his statement to the appellant before the trial. Evidence produced showed that Miles Jackson during the investigation told the police that at 10:30 a.m. on the day the crime was committed, he entered Jackson Cleaners and the victim Ronda Morrison was alive at the time and everything was normal. Related to the bank deposits he had made nearby, Miles the former owner of the cleaners seemed certain of the time. The state theorized that the crime had happened within a 30-minute period between 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. Based on the states theory and Myer’s testimony, Miles Jackson’s testimony would have cast doubt. The information concerning Jackson was likely not disclosed to McMillan before the trial, and it is not logical to think that the defense would not have called Jackson had it known of his existence. Jackson’s information was clearly exculpatory and impeaching, and it is the reason it was suppressed by the state (Berry 62).
Willie Nettles and Clay Kast, McMillan`s mechanics testified that they had modified McMillan`s truck to change it to a low-rider, and they did this work several months after the commission of the crime at Jackson Cleaners. The testimony of the two mechanics casts doubt on the credibility of Hightower, Hooks, and Myers. These witnesses were not called at the appellant’s trial, and McMillan was not informed as to why. The investigators including Simon Benson, a state investigator, Sheriff Tom of Monroe County, and Larry Ikner an examiner at the district attorney’s office in Monroe County were in charge of murder-robbery of the victim Ronda Morrison at the Jackson Cleaners had interrogated Myers.
Testimony of Myers
Myers, who was arrested for the murder of Vicky Lynn Pittman, was questioned at length about Pittman and Morrison killings and the questions and answers were tape-recorded. Myers denied any knowledge of the Morrison murder and requested a lie detector test. Also, Myers invited the officers to investigate his whereabouts on the day of the crime. These taped statements were not disclosed by the state to McMillan during his trial. The state’s failure to disclose to the defense about the statements amounts to a violation of due process (Stevenson 42). The state did not advance a reason these reports were not produced. It was concluded that the prosecution suppressed the report. The testimony was crucial for McMillan`s defense, and it was entirely inconsistent with the Myers trial testimony. The most important issue to McMillan`s case was Myer’s credibility, and there was much about Myers that indicates unreliability and without his testimony, the evidence would have been insufficient to permit McMillan`s case to go to the jury.
Testimony of Witnesses
The prosecutor's closing argument to the jury considerably aggravated his failure to disclose Myers's statement because he argued that Myers was believable since he told the same story from the beginning, when in fact was unknown to the defense, he had not told the same story from the beginning. Viewing the record in its entirety, he concluded that there was a reasonable probability that had Myers's prior inconsistent statement had been disclosed to the defense prior to trial, the results of the proceedings would have been different. A reasonable doubt might well have been created. Confidence in the outcome of the proceeding has definitely been undermined. Accordingly, the prosecutor's failure to disclose Myers's June 3 statement denied the appellant due process, requiring them to reverse the conviction and death sentence and to remand the case for a new trial. Judge Robert E. Lee Key Jr., who found McMillan guilty of the crime, had McMillan instantly sent to Alabama Death Row, at Holman State Prison, Atmore used in reserve of murders pending capital punishment. Judge Key had the trial transferred from Monroe County, which was 40 percent black compared to 13 percent black in Baldwin County (Berry 67).
On the testimony of three witnesses, McMillan was imprisoned after a trial that lasted one and a half days. The witness at a trial including Myers gave evidence that McMillan requested a ride from him to the cleaning store where he witnessed the murder. Other witnesses; Joe Hightower and Bill Hooks, Jr. Hightower beard argued that they saw McMillan`s low-rider track near Jackson Cleaners, which implicated the appellant. Stevenson McMillan`s lawyer called several eyewitnesses who confirmed that McMillan was at his residence the day the crime was committed taking part in a fish fry. However, the lack of physical evidence and despite that testimony, McMillan was found guilty of the offense. McMillan had no unlawful documentation apart from a misconduct accusation of a bar fight and he did not have a history of violence (Stevenson 36).
Court’s Decision on McMillan`s Case
The prosecutors concluded that the perjured statement and facts withdrawn from lawyers had McMillan spend six years on Alabama Death Row. Whether he was convicted of being an African-American man who dishonored race and sexually forbidden practices of the small town, the issue swirling around McMillan`s case raised the question of race and justice. From the beginning, McMillan`s case was surrounded by a mixture of violations from sex to race streaming from McMillan`s association with a white woman. McMillan was able to win his freedom at the end by the verdict by Robert Lee the trial judge to treat McMillan cruelly. McMillan’s lawyer Bryan Stevenson thought:
"It was too easy for one person to come into court and frame a man for a murder he didn't commit. It was too easy for the state to convict someone for that crime and then have him sentenced to death. And it was too hard in light of the evidence of his innocence to show this court that he should never have been here in the first place"(Stevenson 54).
McMillan’s conviction of the murder appeared in an updated report of the book to many of his defenders in which McMillan an African-American man was accused of sexually assaulting and killing a white woman. The television 60 minutes program does not portray a very favorable light on the County and the prosecution based on the McMillan trial. It heightens the awareness of the doubtfulness of the case and convinces the Monroe County district attorney Chapman to bring the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to review the case again. The detectives found zero proof of Walter’s guilt but rather, multiplied instances of his innocence.
The Supreme Court announced that the sentences of life imprisonment without parole obligatory on children were cruel, and the usual penalty through the constitution was impermissible. The court for the very first time issued a complete ban on retribution other than the death penalty. Stevenson takes an undertaking to implement a project to transform the way we talk regarding the racial history and contextualize contemporary race issues. Walter taught Stevenson that when compassion is directed to the undeserving, it is more empowering, liberating, and transformative.
Bedau, Hugo A, and Paul G. Cassell. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? : The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Case. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
Berry, William W. "Implementing Just Mercy: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. By Bryan Stevenson. New York: Random House, LLC, 2014.336 pages.
Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. , 2014. Print.
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