Just Mercy is one of the most compelling novels you will ever read. Only it’s not a novel. It is the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young black lawyer in Alabama, and Walter McMillian, a young black man who was sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit.
Stevenson is a brilliant lawyer who could have chosen any number of lucrative legal careers. He chose to start the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, to represent poor people who could not afford a lawyer.
On a visit to Alabama’s death row, Stevenson meets McMillian and decides to investigate the case. He learns that the case was based entirely on testimony of a convicted felon, Ralph Myers. Myers was facing the death penalty himself when the police made him an offer he could not refuse. If he testified against McMillian, then Myers could avoid execution in Alabama’s infamous electric chair.
As Stevenson uncovers evidence of McMillian’s innocence – including a witness who completely undermined Myers’ testimony – he faces a legal system that is not interested in confronting its own mistakes. The more evidence of innocence he uncovers, the more he pushes for justice, and the more the legal system pushes back, including by going after Stevenson personally.
Stevenson subtitles his book “a story of justice and redemption,” which hints at the ultimate outcome. It is also a story of how much our legal system depends on individual lawyers, like Stevenson, who are willing to fight for justice.