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Wednesday, February 12, 2020
JUST MERCY: A STORY of JUSTICE and REDEMPTION (audiobook) by Bryan Stevenson
Published in 2014 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Bryan Stevenson.
Duration: 11 hours, 11 minutes
"...if he just had the money for a decent lawyer."
Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who has spent his entire career working with people who have been wrongfully convicted and unfairly sentenced. He works through the Equal Justice Initiative with a lot of death row inmates in Alabama. He has succeeded in getting over 100 re-trials and/or re-sentencing hearings for people on death row. He has had multiple convictions completely overturned.
Stevenson does a lot of work in Alabama because Alabama doesn't do much to subsidize the defense in death row cases. How much does the state spend for the entire case, including appeals?
Some counties help with that amount, but more than 70% of Alabama's death row inmates were represented by $1,000 lawyers. Considering that the average cost of a simple will is $375, you can see that a $1,000 worth of death row defense won't get much. The author says it won't even pay for the photocopying costs associated with a death row defense, let alone DNA tests, expert testimony, hiring investigators and other costs. In one of his cases, he freed a man because he was able to demonstrate that the bullet that killed the victim could not have been fired from the supposed "murder weapon" owned by the defendant - it wouldn't have fit in the gun. That is super-basic expert testimony that should have been presented at the original trial.
Stevenson tells the stories of many of his clients as the book moves along, but the thread that ties it together is the story of Walter McMillian. McMillian was convicted of murdering a teenage girl based on flimsy testimony and even flimsier circumstantial evidence. It is the attorney's most famous case and it does give the reader a good idea about the length of time it takes to straighten out one of these incorrect verdicts.
Stevenson also makes a compelling argument that there is a great deal of racial bias in these cases. The sentences for black defendants are often longer, more likely to go to Death Row and are less likely to have an adequate defense. Younger black defendants are much more likely to get moved to adult court than white ones.
My advice if you are poor and/or black is to never get arrested for anything in Alabama.
This book is an important read. Stevenson's writing style is very to the fact - very much in line with someone that writes a lot of legalese all day. He avoids technical terms in this book, but it is often a "just the facts" style of writing.
That said, this book can be inspiring and Stevenson paints a compelling picture. There was one point in the story that I was so frustrated with what was going on that I was physically angry. At another point just a few minutes later, the situation resolved itself in such a profoundly moving way that it brought tears to my eyes. The topic is so engrossing that artistic flourishes are not required.
I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: JUST MERCY: A STORY of JUSTICE and REDEMPTION by Bryan Stevenson.