The Sentinel

Just Mercy: a must read


Just Mercy: a must read

NIC’s newest common read, “Just Mercy,” is not just a common read, but a must read. The author, Bryan Stevenson, has extensive and impressive credentials. He is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama as well as a professor of Law at New York University Law School. Because of his efforts and passion, he has helped to free many condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court and won national acclaim for his work. This book is a powerful account of one of Stevenson`s first cases.

Walter McMillian, who has worked his whole life owning a small logging business, is now being wrongfully accused of murder by a local drug dealer. This drug dealer was worried he would be implicated in another murder investigation, so he made up a story that the police would adhere to resulting in Walter being put on death row. When Stevenson took on McMillian`s case he was doing it for non-profit because of the connection he had with McMillian. This is the story of how Bryan Stevenson led a fight to set a wrongfully accused man free from death row. Walter McMillian sat on death row for 7 years before Bryan Stevenson, through intense litigation and a Supreme Court hearing, got Walter set free. 

This story gives us a peek into just one out of so many stories where the justice system has failed. After participating in the Round Table discussion at North Idaho College, facts were displayed to discuss the process of the justice system.There were 12 steps in all, but here we will only discuss the first four.

First step: witnesses. Mistaken identification contributes to over 60% of wrongful convictions. Next would be interrogation of the person identified by the witness. Many interrogators use the “Reid Technique” to get a confession, which is this: break down the defense of the suspect and rebuild them as a confessor. Interrogators are allowed to “leak” actual facts about the case to the suspect as well as outright lie about evidence against them.

Second step: pretrial arrest. The county prosecutor decides there is enough evidence to build a case against the suspect. “Tunnel vision,” focusing too much on the initial suspect, and “confirmation bias,” searching for, or noticing only evidence that confirms the investigator’s theory, are two other leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Third step: lawyer-up. If the defendant can’t afford one, they are going to be given one that is under-paid and overworked.

Fourth step: the pretrial. This is where the defendant gives a plea of guilty or not guilty, and the judge decides whether or not there is enough evidence to continue. Improper forensic science contributes to over 95% of wrongful convictions.

These are only the beginning stages of the whole process. There are many more interesting facts in this book that promotes it as a must read! 

The author’s purpose of this book was to make a change and give us the inside scoop of what the justice system can really be like. It was such an empowering book that it brought tears to my eyes, made me laugh and also made me want to punch a wall. The feelings expressed in the story are what made this book so powerful.

If you want to feel empowered, I would strongly suggest reading this book. It lets us in on what is really happening in our country within the justice system.


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I am a writer for the Setinal Staff at North Idaho College.

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