The story of Walter McMillian in Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is the one that I found the most intriguing. Bryan, who was the attorney on Walter’s case, was young and just starting his career. He first encountered Walter while he was on death row (20).
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He had spoken to other inmates on death row that day, but Walter’s case is the one that stuck with him. He felt Walter’s sincerity and heartache (21). Walter grew up in a rural neighborhood in Alabama. With limited education, he managed to begin his own pulpwood business (24). He was well known and liked in his town, no matter the race. He was married with three children. He was known as a lady’s man around town and was known to be involved with other women, romantically. Walter became involved with a woman who was eighteen years older than him, Karen. She was married and was having trouble in her marriage. She and her husband were on the road to divorce. Her husband was now aware of the affair that was occurring between her and Walter. Her husband, Joe, initiated gaining custody of their children and intended to publicly disgrace her for her affair with a black man. Joe asked that Walter testifies in court. Word spread quickly and Walter’s reputation quickly depleted.
Interracial sex and marriage had been criminalized, in Monroe County. A young girl had been murdered in Monroe County. The local authorities had no evidence leading to the murderer. Weeks went by and still nothing. The town hired a new sheriff in hopes of finding more evidence. Walter’s ex-wife began a relationship with a white man. This man had a criminal record and was involved in drug dealing. He wanted to be the center of attention and be involved in things that were mysteries, like the recent Pittman murder. The police questioned him on the matter and when the police began to believe that he was directly involved in the murder he pointed his finger to black men, who were innocent, so that police would not accuse him of the murder. Myers, Karen’s boyfriend, said that he was involved in both mystery murders that recently occurred in town. Him, Walter, and Karen were all involved in the murders. Police quickly became aware that Myers was lying and they still had no leads to who the killer was, months later.
A few more months pass and the sheriff decides to arrest Walter on the allegations from Myers, on a pretextual charge. Myers was accusing Walter of sexually assaulting him (47). In Alabama, it was against the law to have an nonprocreative sex (47). When officers officially arrested Walter, there were more than a dozen officers there at the time of the arrest. They drew guns on Walter and used force to get him out of his vehicle. While the officers were arresting Walter, they used foul and insulting language (48). They did this because Walter laughed at the reason for arresting Walter which then angered the officer (48). While Walter was being held in contempt he was told that he was arrested for raping another man, but yet he was being questioned about a murder case (48). The officers were able to get no information from Walter regarding both the accused rape and murder of Rhonda (49). The story that Myers give the police is something that would be hard to prove which is when the officers then decide to arrest Walter for the rape in hopes to find evidence for the murder. (50)
Walter was put on trial by a jury and found guilty sodomy and the murder of Rhonda. How did this happen? How was a man convicted of a murder with little to no evidence? The officers got another inmate who was known as the jail snitch to testify against Walter. Reading this case was the most frustrating thing. Did this really happen? How could this happen to this innocent man? Walter was no saint, but he was not a murderer. The case against Walter was beyond unjust, an innocent man was put on death row because of the pressure put on the sheriff. His rights were not protected, yet they were violated.
Walter did not have due process. Because of his race, he was a target. The sheriff knew that Myers was a liar and was not credible, yet he still took his word over Walter’s. The sheriff knew that he needed to find someone guilty for the recent murders that occurred in the town. His sixth amendment was violated. He was informed of the nature of the accusation but it was not true. The man that had “”witnessed”” the crime was a false witness. He lied under oath. His eighth amendment was also violated. He suffered cruel and unusual punishment. He was sentenced to the death penalty are charged for crimes that he did not commit. A criticism of the exclusionary rule is, it does not stop police from practicing misconduct, which occurred in Walter’s case.
Walter suffered a major injustice. He was a victim of officer misconduct. The town felt uneasy about the murders that had just occurred. They put lots of pressure on law enforcement to find the murderer. This made law enforcement feel as if they needed to find the criminal as soon as possible, even if that meant accusing the wrong man. Crimes were much harder to solve in the early 1900s. They had a lot fewer resources than what we have today. We have cameras and DNA evidence.
As a criminal justice major, this story is motivating. It makes me want to be a part of the criminal justice system to try and find a solution to misconduct and injustice. I may not be able to solve every problem but I can be that light that gives people hope. Not everyone in the criminal justice system is bad. As a Christian, we are called to love one another, and to treat others as we would want to be treated. Micah 6:8 says, “”He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”” We are to do justice but must use wisdom while doing so. It is scary how easily innocent people are put away. We have to practice love and be kind even to those who are cold-blooded killers. Though they made a decision, we are still called to love those who have done wrong.
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