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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING MICHAEL B. JORDAN AND JAMIE FOXX • A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

“[Bryan Stevenson’s] dedication to fighting for justice and equality has inspired me and many others and made a lasting impact on our country.”—John Legend

NAMED ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOKS OF THE DECADE BY CNN • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • Time


Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction • Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction • Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize • An American Library Association Notable Book

“Every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so . . . a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.” —David Cole, The New York Review of Books

“Searing, moving . . . Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela.” —Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

“You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man. . . . The message of this book . . . is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.” —Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review

“Inspiring . . . a work of style, substance and clarity . . . Stevenson is not only a great lawyer, he’s also a gifted writer and storyteller.” The Washington Post

“As deeply moving, poignant and powerful a book as has been, and maybe ever can be, written about the death penalty.” —The Financial Times

“Brilliant.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

Review

Just Mercy is every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so. . . . [It] demonstrates, as powerfully as any book on criminal justice that I’ve ever read, the extent to which brutality, unfairness, and racial bias continue to infect criminal law in the United States. But at the same time that [Bryan] Stevenson tells an utterly damning story of deep-seated and widespread injustice, he also recounts instances of human compassion, understanding, mercy, and justice that offer hope. . . . Just Mercy is a remarkable amalgam, at once a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.” —David Cole, The New York Review of Books

“A searing, moving and infuriating memoir . . . Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela. For decades he has fought judges, prosecutors and police on behalf of those who are impoverished, black or both. . . . Injustice is easy not to notice when it affects people different from ourselves; that helps explain the obliviousness of our own generation to inequity today. We need to wake up. And that is why we need a Mandela in this country.” —Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

“Unfairness in the justice system is a major theme of our age. . . . This book brings new life to the story by placing it in two affecting contexts: [Bryan] Stevenson’s life work and the deep strain of racial injustice in American life. . . . You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man. Against tremendous odds, Stevenson has worked to free scores of people from wrongful or excessive punishment, arguing five times before the Supreme Court. . . . The book extols not his nobility but that of the cause, and reads like a call to action for all that remains to be done. . . . The message of the book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made.  Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. . . . Stevenson has been angry about [the criminal justice system] for years, and we are all the better for it.” —Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review

“Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope.  Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.” —John Grisham

“Bryan Stevenson is one of my personal heroes, perhaps the most inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today, and  Just Mercy is extraordinary. The stories told within these pages hold the potential to transform what we think we mean when we talk about justice.” —Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

“A distinguished NYU law professor and MacArthur grant recipient offers the compelling story of the legal practice he founded to protect the rights of people on the margins of American society. . . . Emotionally profound, necessary reading.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review, Kirkus Prize Finalist)

“A passionate account of the ways our nation thwarts justice and inhumanely punishes the poor and disadvantaged.” Booklist (starred review)

“From the frontlines of social justice comes one of the most urgent voices of our era. Bryan Stevenson is a real-life, modern-day Atticus Finch who, through his work in redeeming innocent people condemned to death, has sought to redeem the country itself. This is a book of great power and courage. It is inspiring and suspenseful—a revelation.” —Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

“Words such as important and compelling may have lost their force through overuse, but reading this book will restore their meaning, along with one’s hopes for humanity.” —Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains

“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.” —Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

About the Author

Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

 

Mockingbird Players

The temporary receptionist was an elegant African American woman wearing a dark, expensive business suit—a well-dressed exception to the usual crowd at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) in Atlanta, where I had returned after graduation to work full time. On her first day, I’d rambled over to her in my regular uniform of jeans and sneakers and offered to answer any questions she might have to help her get acclimated. She looked at me coolly and waved me away after reminding me that she was, in fact, an experienced legal secretary. The next morning, when I arrived at work in another jeans and sneakers ensemble, she seemed startled, as if some strange vagrant had made a wrong turn into the office. She took a beat to compose herself, then summoned me over to confide that she was leaving in a week to work at a “real law office.” I wished her luck. An hour later, she called my office to tell me that “Robert E. Lee” was on the phone. I smiled, pleased that I’d misjudged her; she clearly had a sense of humor.

“That’s really funny.”

“I’m not joking. That’s what he said,” she said, sounding bored, not playful. “Line two.”

I picked up the line.

“Hello, this is Bryan Stevenson. May I help you?”

“Bryan, this is Robert E. Lee Key. Why in the hell would you want to represent someone like Walter McMillian? Do you know he’s reputed to be one of the biggest drug dealers in all of South Alabama? I got your notice entering an appearance, but you don’t want anything to do with this case.”

“Sir?”

“This is Judge Key, and you don’t want to have anything to do with this McMillian case. No one really understands how depraved this situation truly is, including me, but I know it’s ugly. These men might even be Dixie Mafia.”

The lecturing tone and bewildering phrases from a judge I’d never met left me completely confused. “Dixie Mafia”? I’d met Walter McMillian two weeks earlier, after spending a day on death row to begin work on five capital cases. I hadn’t reviewed the trial transcript yet, but I did remember that the judge’s last name was Key. No one had told me the Robert E. Lee part. I struggled for an image of “Dixie Mafia” that would fit Walter McMillian.

“ ‘Dixie Mafia’?”

“Yes, and there’s no telling what else. Now, son, I’m just not going to appoint some out-of-state lawyer who’s not a member of the Alabama bar to take on one of these death penalty cases, so you just go ahead and withdraw.”

“I’m a member of the Alabama bar.”

I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, but I had been admitted to the Alabama bar a year earlier after working on some cases in Alabama concerning jail and prison conditions.

“Well, I’m now sitting in Mobile. I’m not up in Monroe­ville anymore. If we have a hearing on your motion, you’re going to have to come all the way from Atlanta to Mobile. I’m not going to accommodate you no kind of way.”

“I understand, sir. I can come to Mobile, if necessary.”

“Well, I’m also not going to appoint you because I don’t think he’s indigent. He’s reported to have money buried all over Monroe County.”

“Judge, I’m not seeking appointment. I’ve told Mr. McMillian that we would—” The dial tone interrupted my first affirmative statement of the phone call. I spent several minutes thinking we’d been accidentally disconnected before finally realizing that a judge had just hung up on me.

I was in my late twenties and about to start my fourth year at the SPDC when I met Walter McMillian. His case was one of the flood of cases I’d found myself frantically working on after learning of a growing crisis in Alabama. The state had nearly a hundred people on death row as well as the fastest-growing condemned population in the country, but it also had no public defender system, which meant that large numbers of death row prisoners had no legal representation of any kind. My friend Eva Ansley ran the Alabama Prison Project, which tracked cases and matched lawyers with the condemned men. In 1988, we discovered an opportunity to get federal funding to create a legal center that could represent people on death row. The plan was to use that funding to start a new nonprofit. We hoped to open it in Tuscaloosa and begin working on cases in the next year. I’d already worked on lots of death penalty cases in several Southern states, sometimes winning a stay of execution just minutes before an electrocution was scheduled. But I didn’t think I was ready to take on the responsibilities of running a nonprofit law office. I planned to help get the organization off the ground, find a director, and then return to Atlanta.

When I’d visited death row a few weeks before that call from Robert E. Lee Key, I met with five desperate condemned men: Willie Tabb, Vernon Madison, Jesse Morrison, Harry Nicks, and Walter McMillian. It was an exhausting, emotionally taxing day, and the cases and clients had merged together in my mind on the long drive back to Atlanta. But I remembered Walter. He was at least fifteen years older than me, not particularly well educated, and he hailed from a small rural community. The memorable thing about him was how insistent he was that he’d been wrongly convicted.

“Mr. Bryan, I know it may not matter to you, but it’s important to me that you know that I’m innocent and didn’t do what they said I did, not no kinda way,” he told me in the meeting room. His voice was level but laced with emotion. I nodded to him. I had learned to accept what clients tell me until the facts suggest something else.

“Sure, of course I understand. When I review the record I’ll have a better sense of what evidence they have, and we can talk about it.”

“But . . . look, I’m sure I’m not the first person on death row to tell you that they’re innocent, but I really need you to believe me. My life has been ruined! This lie they put on me is more than I can bear, and if I don’t get help from someone who believes me—”

His lip began to quiver, and he clenched his fists to stop himself from crying. I sat quietly while he forced himself back into composure.

“I’m sorry, I know you’ll do everything you can to help me,” he said, his voice quieter. My instinct was to comfort him; his pain seemed so sincere. But there wasn’t much I could do, and after several hours on the row talking to so many people, I could muster only enough energy to reassure him that I would look at everything carefully.

I had several transcripts piled up in my small Atlanta office ready to move to Tuscaloosa once the office opened. With Judge Robert E. Lee Key’s peculiar comments still running through my head, I went through the mound of records until I found the transcripts from Walter McMillian’s trial. There were only four volumes of trial proceedings, which meant that the trial had been short. The judge’s dramatic warnings now made Mr. McMillian’s emotional claim of innocence too intriguing to put off any longer. I started reading.

 

Even though he had lived in Monroe County his whole life, Walter McMillian had never heard of Harper Lee or To Kill a Mockingbird. Monroe­ville, Alabama, celebrated its native daughter Lee shamelessly after her award-winning book became a national bestseller in the 1960s. She returned to Monroe County but secluded herself and was rarely seen in public. Her reclusiveness proved no barrier to the county’s continued efforts to market her literary classic—or to market itself by using the book’s celebrity. Production of the film adaptation brought Gregory Peck to town for the infamous courtroom scenes; his performance won him an Academy Award. Local leaders later turned the old courthouse into a “Mockingbird” museum. A group of locals formed “The Mockingbird Players of Monroe­ville” to pre­sent a stage version of the story. The production was so popular that national and international tours were organized to provide an authentic presentation of the fictional story to audiences everywhere.

Sentimentality about Lee’s story grew even as the harder truths of the book took no root. The story of an innocent black man bravely defended by a white lawyer in the 1930s fascinated millions of readers, despite its uncomfortable exploration of false accusations of rape involving a white woman. Lee’s endearing characters, Atticus Finch and his precocious daughter Scout, captivated readers while confronting them with some of the realities of race and justice in the South. A generation of future lawyers grew up hoping to become the courageous Atticus, who at one point arms himself to protect the defenseless black suspect from an angry mob of white men looking to lynch him.

Today, dozens of legal organizations hand out awards in the fictional lawyer’s name to celebrate the model of advocacy described in Lee’s novel. What is often overlooked is that the black man falsely accused in the story was not successfully defended by Atticus. Tom Robinson, the wrongly accused black defendant, is found guilty. Later he dies when, full of despair, he makes a desperate attempt to escape from prison. He is shot seventeen times in the back by his captors, dying ingloriously but not unlawfully.

Walter McMillian, like Tom Robinson, grew up in one of several poor black settlements outside of Monroe­ville, where he worked the fields with his family before he was old enough to attend school. The children of sharecroppers in southern Alabama were introduced to “plowin’, plantin’, and pickin’ ” as soon as they were old enough to be useful in the fields. Educational opportunities for black children in the 1950s were limited, but Walter’s mother got him to the dilapidated “colored school” for a couple of years when he was young. By the time Walter was eight or nine, he became too valuable for picking cotton to justify the remote advantages of going to school. By the age of eleven, Walter could run a plow as well as any of his older siblings.

Times were changing—for better and for worse. Monroe County had been developed by plantation owners in the nineteenth century for the production of cotton. Situated in the coastal plain of southwest Alabama, the fertile, rich black soil of the area attracted white settlers from the Carolinas who amassed very successful plantations and a huge slave population. For decades after the Civil War, the large African American population toiled in the fields of the “Black Belt” as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, dependent on white landowners for survival. In the 1940s, thousands of African Americans left the region as part of the Great Migration and headed mostly to the Midwest and West Coast for jobs. Those who remained continued to work the land, but the out-migration of African Americans combined with other factors to make traditional agriculture less sustainable as the economic base of the region.

By the 1950s, small cotton farming was becoming increasingly less profitable, even with the low-wage labor provided by black sharecroppers and tenants. The State of Alabama agreed to help white landowners in the region transition to timber farming and forest products by providing extraordinary tax incentives for pulp and paper mills. Thirteen of the state’s sixteen pulp and paper mills were opened during this period. Across the Black Belt, more and more acres were converted to growing pine trees for paper mills and industrial uses. African Americans, largely excluded from this new industry, found themselves confronting new economic challenges even as they won basic civil rights. The brutal era of sharecropping and Jim Crow was ending, but what followed was persistent unemployment and worsening poverty. The region’s counties remained some of the poorest in America.

Walter was smart enough to see the trend. He started his own pulpwood business that evolved with the timber industry in the 1970s. He astutely—and bravely—borrowed money to buy his own power saw, tractor, and pulpwood truck. By the 1980s, he had developed a solid business that didn’t generate a lot of extra money but afforded him a gratifying degree of independence. If he had worked at the mill or the factory or had had some other unskilled job—the kind that most poor black people in South Alabama worked—it would invariably mean working for white business owners and dealing with all the racial stress that that implied in Alabama in the 1970s and 1980s. Walter couldn’t escape the reality of racism, but having his own business in a growing sector of the economy gave him a latitude that many African Americans did not enjoy.

That independence won Walter some measure of respect and admiration, but it also cultivated contempt and suspicion, especially outside of Monroe­ville’s black community. Walter’s freedom was, for some of the white people in town, well beyond what African Americans with limited education were able to achieve through legitimate means. Still, he was pleasant, respectful, generous, and accommodating, which made him well liked by the people with whom he did business, whether black or white.

Walter was not without his flaws. He had long been known as a ladies’ man. Even though he had married young and had three children with his wife, Minnie, it was well known that he was romantically involved with other women. “Tree work” is notoriously demanding and dangerous. With few ordinary comforts in his life, the attention of women was something Walter did not easily resist. There was something about his rough exterior—his bushy long hair and uneven beard—combined with his generous and charming nature that attracted the attention of some women.

Walter grew up understanding how forbidden it was for a black man to be intimate with a white woman, but by the 1980s he had allowed himself to imagine that such matters might be changing. Perhaps if he hadn’t been successful enough to live off his own business he would have more consistently kept in mind those racial lines that could never be crossed. As it was, Walter didn’t initially think much of the flirtations of Karen Kelly, a young white woman he’d met at the Waffle House where he ate breakfast. She was attractive, but he didn’t take her too seriously. When her flirtations became more explicit, Walter hesitated, and then persuaded himself that no one would ever know.

After a few weeks, it became clear that his relationship with Karen was trouble. At twenty-five, Karen was eighteen years younger than Walter, and she was married. As word got around that the two were “friends,” she seemed to take a titillating pride in her intimacy with Walter. When her husband found out, things quickly turned ugly. Karen and her husband, Joe, had long been unhappy and were already planning to divorce, but her scandalous involvement with a black man outraged Karen’s husband and his entire family. He initiated legal proceedings to gain custody of their children and became intent on publicly disgracing his wife by exposing her infidelity and revealing her relationship with a black man.

For his part, Walter had always stayed clear of the courts and far away from the law. Years earlier, he had been drawn into a bar fight that resulted in a misdemeanor conviction and a night in jail. It was the first and only time he had ever been in trouble. From that point on, he had no exposure to the criminal justice system.

When Walter received a subpoena from Karen Kelly’s husband to testify at a hearing where the Kellys would be fighting over their children’s custody, he knew it was going to cause him serious problems. Unable to consult with his wife, Minnie, who had a better head for these kinds of crises, he nervously went to the courthouse. The lawyer for Kelly’s husband called Walter to the stand. Walter had decided to acknowledge being a “friend” of Karen. Her lawyer objected to the crude questions posed to Walter by the husband’s attorney about the nature of his friendship, sparing him from providing any details, but when he left the courtroom the anger and animosity toward him were palpable. Walter wanted to forget about the whole ordeal, but word spread quickly, and his reputation shifted. No longer the hard-working pulpwood man, known to white people almost exclusively for what he could do with a saw in the pine trees, Walter now represented something more worrisome.

Fears of interracial sex and marriage have deep roots in the United States. The confluence of race and sex was a powerful force in dismantling Reconstruction after the Civil War, sustaining Jim Crow laws for a century and fueling divisive racial politics throughout the twentieth century. In the aftermath of slavery, the creation of a system of racial hierarchy and segregation was largely designed to prevent intimate relationships like Walter and Karen’s—relationships that were, in fact, legally prohibited by “anti-miscegenation statutes” (the word miscegenation came into use in the 1860s, when supporters of slavery coined the term to promote the fear of interracial sex and marriage and the race mixing that would result if slavery were abolished). For over a century, law enforcement officials in many Southern communities absolutely saw it as part of their duty to investigate and punish black men who had been intimate with white women.

Although the federal government had promised racial equality for freed former slaves during the short period of Reconstruction, the return of white supremacy and racial subordination came quickly after federal troops left Alabama in the 1870s. Voting rights were taken away from African Americans, and a series of racially restrictive laws enforced the racial hierarchy. “Racial integrity” laws were part of a plan to replicate slavery’s racial hierarchy and reestablish the subordination of African Americans. Having criminalized interracial sex and marriage, states throughout the South would use the laws to justify the forced sterilization of poor and minority women. Forbidding sex between white women and black men became an intense preoccupation throughout the South.

In the 1880s, a few years before lynching became the standard response to interracial romance and a century before Walter and Karen Kelly began their affair, Tony Pace, an African American man, and Mary Cox, a white woman, fell in love in Alabama. They were arrested and convicted, and both were sentenced to two years in prison for violating Alabama’s racial integrity laws. John Tompkins, a lawyer and part of a small minority of white professionals who considered the racial integrity laws to be unconstitutional, agreed to represent Tony and Mary to appeal their convictions. The Alabama Supreme Court reviewed the case in 1882. With rhetoric that would be quoted frequently over the next several decades, Alabama’s highest court affirmed the convictions, using language that dripped with contempt for the idea of interracial romance:

The evil tendency of the crime [of adultery or fornication] is greater when committed between persons of the two races. . . . Its result may be the amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.

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Top reviews from the United States

Gary
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Justice, Mercy, and Redemption
Reviewed in the United States on May 20, 2017
When I first started reading this book I really had no idea what to expect or why I should even take the time to read it. My tendency is to put things into "liberal" and "conservative" buckets and this one seemingly fit into the liberal bucket and I am a professed... See more
When I first started reading this book I really had no idea what to expect or why I should even take the time to read it. My tendency is to put things into "liberal" and "conservative" buckets and this one seemingly fit into the liberal bucket and I am a professed conservative. I still am but I have to say that I was moved by this story beyond my expectations. There is indeed so much injustice in this world and there is plenty of opportunity for mercy; even mercy extended in unexpected places. The plight of the poor and downtrodden is overwhelming to consider and this book provided a reason to view people''s circumstances before providing condemnation. I would wholeheartedly recommend reading it.
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Leah Johnson Garland
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Pay attention to the important information and not the way it''s presented or who else is villonized
Reviewed in the United States on October 14, 2018
This book is a sad book. It had horrible stories about people that were done wrong by the people of that time. They were people of color, mentally ill people, and the system failed them. We all need to be aware of this and that it happens to ALL people. It doesn''t just... See more
This book is a sad book. It had horrible stories about people that were done wrong by the people of that time. They were people of color, mentally ill people, and the system failed them. We all need to be aware of this and that it happens to ALL people. It doesn''t just happen to black people. It happens to all people. What my rating means is that to bring this out to the forefront and to bring what has happened to the attention of many - doesn''t mean you need to bash white people or make out the police to be the bad people. I am tired of this being the only way authors seem to be able to get a point across. Try another way and you will get the information to more people that aren''t turned off to the rest of the message.
398 people found this helpful
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TwinMomTop Contributor: Pets
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Tops my list of the 100 books to read in a lifetime
Reviewed in the United States on August 20, 2018
I get it, people don''t like lawyers generally, but I''d wager that most people would change their minds if they met lawyers like Bryan Stevenson. I heard an interview with Mr. Stevenson and Oprah on the Super Soul Conversations podcast, and I was immediately... See more
I get it, people don''t like lawyers generally, but I''d wager that most people would change their minds if they met lawyers like Bryan Stevenson.

I heard an interview with Mr. Stevenson and Oprah on the Super Soul Conversations podcast, and I was immediately intrigued. After 10 minutes of hearing Mr. Stevenson speak about his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative and the work he does with those condemned to death row, I knew I had to learn more.

Not often is a book life changing to the extent it changes long held beliefs and opinions. Before this book, I had very concrete notions about the legal process and death row cases. After reading this book, I understand that courts and juries can get it wrong more often than we''d dare to think, even in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. More disturbing is how difficult it is to reverse sending an innocent person to death row once they''ve been pronounced guilty.

Mr. Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer, brilliant writer and inspirational human. Until I read this book, I''d never read another book where I''ve come away thinking, this should be mandatory reading for law school students or at least listed in the Top 100 Books to read in a lifetime list.

This book chronicles Mr. Stevenson''s representation of those condemned to die on death row. While the majority of these people committed the crimes alleged, some of them didn''t. In addition to providing fascinating insight into death row cases and demographics, Mr. Stevenson details helping exonerate Walter McMillan, a death row inmate convicted of killing an 18 year old girl. Despite numerous witnesses attesting to the fact Mr. McMillan was at a church fish fry, the jury sided with witnesses who had been told to say something different by law enforcement. Despite the trial judge on the case telling Mr. Stevenson not to take the case and despite receiving bomb and death threats, Mr. Stevenson took the case, proved the evidence had been contrived, leading to Mr. McMillan''s exoneration in 1993.

I gained a different perspective on death row cases, the importance of initiatives like the Equal Justice Initiative, and a huge respect for Mr. Stevenson and lawyers like him. Not only did I personally feel that I''d been wasting my law degree for the past 18 years after reading this book, it made me want to do more for my community, to do more pro bono work and to really make a difference in lives.

Bravo, Mr. Stevenson, for this beautifully written work and for challenging me to think in ways I never have before on this topic. You make the profession of law proud.
285 people found this helpful
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DAW
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Every American Should Read This Book
Reviewed in the United States on September 2, 2016
Everyone in America should read this book--what an eye opener! I had no idea that this type of justice was going on in America. Children as young as 13 years old being sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole--and for non-homicidal crimes! Women sent to... See more
Everyone in America should read this book--what an eye opener! I had no idea that this type of justice was going on in America. Children as young as 13 years old being sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole--and for non-homicidal crimes! Women sent to prison for life for crib death babies when there is no proof that the mother was involved in the death. People on death row who were completely innocent of the crimes they were found guilty of committing. Prosecutors and other officials railroading innocent people to convictions and then giving them death penalties. Judges overruling juries who gave the convicted person life behind bars and instead putting them on death row. Bryan Stevenson has provided an outstanding view of some of the justice being handed out in parts of our country. Most of the people convicted are either extremely poor, of color, or both. Mr. Stevenson, you are an amazing human being for devoting your career to this cause.
260 people found this helpful
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Rosalie Haas
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
and this is America
Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2018
Why do we abhor corruption in other countries when it is so prevalent right here? This was the question raised in me while I read this book. Crooked cops and prosecutors, inept public defenders, courts that intentionally ignore truth, resulting in incarceration and death... See more
Why do we abhor corruption in other countries when it is so prevalent right here? This was the question raised in me while I read this book. Crooked cops and prosecutors, inept public defenders, courts that intentionally ignore truth, resulting in incarceration and death sentences that our founding fathers never would have - or should have - tolerated ... All of these are covered here, written so eloquently by an attorney who dedicates his life defending and caring for those suffering under these cruel injustices. I was horrified to read that our laws dictate execution even after proof of innocence is uncovered but is "too late, sorry"! At the beginning I thought that, even though I am an average middle aged white woman, thank God I do not live in the corrupt South. I discovered that Mr. Stevenson''s Equal Justice Initiative has their work cut out for them all over this country. This is no longer the 50''s and 60''s. Shame on us.
72 people found this helpful
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David R. Anderson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
JIm Crow Lives in Alabama
Reviewed in the United States on January 31, 2018
Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer instrumental in the formation, operation, growth and success of the Equal Justice Initiative, demonstrates in JUST MERCY how easy it was for corrupt Alabama law men to frame an innocent black man for a murder he didn’t commit and how difficult... See more
Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer instrumental in the formation, operation, growth and success of the Equal Justice Initiative, demonstrates in JUST MERCY how easy it was for corrupt Alabama law men to frame an innocent black man for a murder he didn’t commit and how difficult it was to save him from death row and ultimately win his freedom not withstanding overwhelming evidence of his innocence.

Once the South’s Jim Crow reign of terror (over 1400 hundred blacks were lynched -- murdered in cold blood, often as a spectator sport, by the Klu Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils for the crime of being black -- finally gave way, white supremacists responded by passing laws that had the effect of replacing the rope with the electric chair after what amounted to deeply flawed trials.

JUST MERCY is the account of one of Stevenson’s early interventions on behalf of a death row prisoner whose trial observed none of the safeguards designed to protect defendants’ rights to fair trials – it was as bad as Stalin era prosecutions of innocent Russians suspected of anti-government views.

Stevenson built on his efforts to win death sentence reprieves by attacking other pernicious justice system practices that punished blacks, other minorities, children, and poor whites with unfair sentences for crimes as simple as being unable to make bail. These violations, often victimless, would have gone unnoticed and unpunished if committed by whites who were well off enough to afford a lawyer.

The long and short of Stevenson’s work is that it has uncovered the extent to which our criminal justice system is unworthy of a country that claims to treat everyone fairly and on an equal basis. We are not there yet, not by a long shot.

Afterword. If you are as troubled by what Stevenson’s account tells you about our merciless, unjust legal system, you can show your support for his efforts by responding to his request for help published at the end of his book
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kyle jacobsen
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Trash stories about how hard it is to be black in america-Muh Oppression Edition
Reviewed in the United States on September 5, 2019
Had to buy for NIU transfer class - this class was a 1 credit class offered to students who transferred to NIU regardless of your major, took it to meet 12 credit minimum for full time benefits as college kid like most people do. Weirdly made us read this book its... See more
Had to buy for NIU transfer class - this class was a 1 credit class offered to students who transferred to NIU regardless of your major, took it to meet 12 credit minimum for full time benefits as college kid like most people do.
Weirdly made us read this book its almost like college is trying to force this BS on students, must be just a coincidence...
Anyways is a waste of time maybe read FBI crime statistics instead at least you''ll learn something
Despite being 13% of the popula....
42 people found this helpful
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Holly R
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Unless you want a history lesson this book is a snooze
Reviewed in the United States on May 15, 2019
I returned it after the first five chapters. I couldn’t get into the story because the author was so dead set on giving us all the facts about the injustices for blacks in those times. I didn’t care about the characters because all I kept hearing about was all the... See more
I returned it after the first five chapters. I couldn’t get into the story because the author was so dead set on giving us all the facts about the injustices for blacks in those times. I didn’t care about the characters because all I kept hearing about was all the statistics of blacks on death row and the prejudiced juries. I wanted to hear about who Walter Mcmillian was, and that just got lost in the authors rift about everything being unfair. I typically love historical fiction too, but this read felt like I was forced to read it to learn something about civil rights. It felt like a high school book report. Pass.
33 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

JP
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Stonecatcher
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 12, 2020
As a white English woman I have limited knowledge of the British justice system and next to none of the American systems. I have no knowledge of worrying about healthcare issues as ours is free, so don''t have to stop and think before I call the doctor or an ambulance. I...See more
As a white English woman I have limited knowledge of the British justice system and next to none of the American systems. I have no knowledge of worrying about healthcare issues as ours is free, so don''t have to stop and think before I call the doctor or an ambulance. I also have no real knowledge of racism. The facts in this account are heartbreaking. It is unbelievable that we can treat people this way. That anyone can be thrown into prison for life without parole is dreadful, let alone that it could be a 13year old child or a woman writing cheques for which she has no money to honour. What kind of world is this?! Bryan writes in a gentle, eloquent tone; he doesn''t lecture, or bang his fist, and as such it is a very readable book, even if the truths are not palatable. Well done for all your incredible struggles Mr Stevenson and thank you for writing this book so that I and the rest of the world may be educated. May we be brave enough to catch stones henceforth.
17 people found this helpful
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Mark A. Pearce
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Bryan Stevenson - a Legend
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 18, 2015
I first came across Bryan Stevenson when watching his interview on Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) talking about Ferguson. This book made me, a white Brit, aware of how deep-rooted the problems in America''s judicial system are. Hopefully the imprint this book will have...See more
I first came across Bryan Stevenson when watching his interview on Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) talking about Ferguson. This book made me, a white Brit, aware of how deep-rooted the problems in America''s judicial system are. Hopefully the imprint this book will have on me is that it will make me a little more human, a little more merciful. I''d recommend this book for anyone - and particularly for schools. I think today''s primary kids should read this stuff and maybe be encouraged to forge a better world for themselves.
51 people found this helpful
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William Jordan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fighting the death penalty - and wrongful convictions - in Alabama
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 19, 2015
This book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson''s attempts to help those on death row in the US, particularly those in the state of Alabama where he sets up an Equal Justice Initiative. One three through the book is the story of Walter McMillian, wrongly convicted of murder...See more
This book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson''s attempts to help those on death row in the US, particularly those in the state of Alabama where he sets up an Equal Justice Initiative. One three through the book is the story of Walter McMillian, wrongly convicted of murder who spends 6 years on death row before he is finally released by the efforts of Stevenson. Other chapters deal with other cases - and the issues around treating juveniles as adults in the US justice system of the day, of making no allowance for mental disabilities, and through it all, ongoing prejudice against black people and poor people built into the judicial system. I learned much I did not know - that judges in many US states run for office and are elected, for example. This leads to competition to be the toughest on crime in terms of sentencing. And much about US history - Stevenson persuasively suggests there have been four eras of history in the US, that of slavery, that of terrorism (lynching, the Ku Klux Klan etc) following Reconstruction, that of Jim Crow (institutionalised apartheid), and now an era of mass imprisonment. I was also reminded of much that is worst in human nature as well as about much that is best. Stevenson says ''we are all broken'' in different ways. There are telling anecdotes from his own life - being stopped by the police for now reason while in his car late at night near his home and having a gun pointed at him and then an illegal search of his car, being mistaken by a judge for a criminal rather than a defence attorney because he is black. Much of the book is very moving. Just possibly the worst is over with several Supreme Court victories, and some decline in the imposition of the death penalty in very recent years... So: I''d simply recommend this very strongly to all others.
30 people found this helpful
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Frances Stott
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A shocking indictment of the American judicial system
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 1, 2015
This is one of the most impressive books I have read for a very long time. The author, an African American from a poor background, is a lawyer who works tirelessly to defend the rights of his mainly black clients, especially those on death row and some children as young as...See more
This is one of the most impressive books I have read for a very long time. The author, an African American from a poor background, is a lawyer who works tirelessly to defend the rights of his mainly black clients, especially those on death row and some children as young as thirteen years, who receive sentences of life without parole. His is a remarkable story of courage, persistence, and sheer humanity, and his work is now rightly recognised throughout the world. The book is not a comfortable read; many of his clients have suffered appalling injustice and abuse, and he pulls no punches in writing about them. But the book also includes stories of enormous courage and forgiveness, as well as of heartbreak and tragedy. One character in particular stands out, as we follow his story from wrongful conviction as a young man through numerous appeals and setbacks. Stevenson points out that even now, a white guilty man stands a better chance of finding justice than one who is black and innocent, and he challenges a society that identifies people by the worst thing they have done, ignoring the good. For some years, I have corresponded with a prisoner on Texas death row facing execution, and I know from his letters some of the devastating effects of years of solitary confinement, without any opportunity for redemption, so this book was of especial interest to me. But to all who are in favour of - as well as against - the death penalty, I would say read this book. It is a real eye-opener, as well as giving shocking insight into the judicial system of the United States, who have the highest rate of imprisonment in the entire world. The link below leads to a speech by Stevenson, which describes some of what can be found in his remarkable book. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/17/bryan-stevenson-if-its-not-right-to-a-rapist-how-can-it-be-ok-to-kill-a-killer
24 people found this helpful
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Jo Adamson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Thought provoking
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 30, 2020
As someone who works in the British Criminal justice system I am always interested in comparison between our CJS and that of the US, which was originally designed to emulate ours. The vast difference in sentencing policy has always been staggering and made me grateful of...See more
As someone who works in the British Criminal justice system I am always interested in comparison between our CJS and that of the US, which was originally designed to emulate ours. The vast difference in sentencing policy has always been staggering and made me grateful of our more liberal sentencing practices. Reading about the experiences of BAME communities and the US CJS made me angry and offended my sense of justice; until I read statistics that show that proportionately we are overtaking the US in our locking up of black males. This book has reaffirmed that justice is more readily available to those who can pay for it and solidified my position that the death penalty, either through execution or slow death in custody is both immoral and detracts from one of the most human of virtues...mercy.
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