Summary of "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson

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Summary Of “Just Mercy” By Bryan Stevenson

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Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson entails his experiences as a legal advocate for trivialized people who have either been falsely accused or sentenced harshly. Although the novel accounts the story of a variety of people assisted, the central idea circulates between Stevenson, his past and current organization, and Walter McMillan, a falsely convicted African American man held on death row in Montgomery, Alabama in the late 1980s.

Throughout the novel, Stevenson provides his views on America’s judicial system, but as well as historical context. His ultimate argument holds empathy and mercy over punishment and prolonged incarceration. In his beginnings, Stevenson attended Harvard’s law program where he was introduced to an internship at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). While working his first or second case of a prisoner on death row, his sudden realization of the experience of those incarcerated were unknowingly unjust. His ultimate inspiration derived from a single prisoner whose hope of leaving his unavoidable fate had left Stevenson with a hymn. A hymn from childhood that he held dearly, and it was there he made the decision that he would fight for the people that others did not, thus, his journey to bringing a form of hope to the prisoners of Mobile, Alabama began.

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Stevenson opens chapter four, “The Old Rugged Cross,” in Tuscaloosa, where he and his partner Ansley had just begun their nonprofit law center, holding the goal to provide just and legal services to those condemned on death row. However, the start of EJI (Equal Justice Initiative) proved difficult as finding funds and staff lacked; they eventually relocated to Montgomery in hopes of a better opportunity. Relocation proves well as Stevenson takes the case of Herbert Richardson, who pleads for help after receiving his upcoming execution date. With the lack of staff and overextensions, Stevenson rejects his case.

Richardson persists stating he has twenty-nine days left and simply wants hope. With this, Stevenson takes his case, beginning his tireless journey to win a stay. As Stevenson works Richardson’s case, it is revealed Herbert was a Vietnam war veteran that had been left traumatized, suffering from PTSD symptoms including emotional weakness and severe headaches. He married, had children, but his condition had made it difficult to live a normal everyday life, leading to his need for medical attention at a New York veteran’s hospital. Throughout his recovery, he had found love for a nurse and attempted to marry her, persisting to the point of removing herself from his life. In return, a plan which led to a little girl’s death had begun his incarceration. Despite his knowledge of this, Stevenson continued to fight for Herbert, wanting true justice for something accidental that deemed unforgivable. After his multiple attempts and hours of waiting for the phone call that would mean everything, Richardson’s appeal had been denied, his stay refused and execution to proceed. Stevenson then describes the heart-wrenching truth of saying goodbye to a loved one on death row, Richardson saying goodbye to his newfound and last thing he may call family.

A dramatic scene ended abruptly as Herbert is electrocuted, Stevenson now filled with determination to help each of his clients to avoid the same fate. Opening chapter 5,” Of the Coming of John,” Stevenson is found surrounded by the friends and family of his main case, Walter McMillan. Each vent their anxieties and worries about the situation Walter is in and how unbelievable it truly is. An innocent man being wrongly convicted of a crime he supposedly did not convict. As Stevenson leaves the home of McMillan’s, his thoughts are interrupted with a short story titled “The Souls of Black Folk,” written by W.E.B. Du Bois, where a critical comparison is made between himself, Walter, and their community with the main character in the story. His thoughts are plagued by the idea that his client may end with the fate Richardson had and how it may affect the community such as the main character in the story. Darnell Houston, a man who states he can claim Walter’s innocence calls and sets a meeting with Stevenson. He learns that the testimony of Bill Hooks is a fallacy and that Darnell is a coworker of Hooks and had been working with him the day the murder had taken place, proving that testifying against Walter was not possible.

Stevenson, with this new information, immediately planned to appeal Walter’s conviction, the state with little evidence encouraging his decision. However, he later receives a panicked phone call from Darnell stating his unprecedented arrest, charged with perjury. Amazed by incompetence of the state and outraged by the state’s intimidation, Stevenson sets a meeting with the district attorney, Chapman, with hopes of finding out why police would illegally arrest Houston and why Walters case is full of holes. He ends empty-handed, Chapman unwilling and annoyed, dismisses Stevenson with a cold shoulder. Once again, his client is let down, as Walters appeal is rejected.

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