Just Mercy – a movie about a real hero

Between a seemingly endless list of movies about comic book heroes, it is nice to see a movie portray a real life hero. The social justice efforts of Bryan Stevenson are portrayed in the movie “Just Mercy.”

The movie was directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton (Andrew Lanham also co-wrote it) and stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. Jordan plays Stevenson as he starts the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Alabama after earning a Harvard law degree and growing up similarly to his clients. Larson plays Eva Ansley, the director of operations from the outset.

EJI provides free legal support to disenfranchised people who have been wrongly convicted on death row. Not surprisingly, the significant majority of the people on death row in Alabama are African-American and were underrepresented by legal counsel. Also, not surprisingly, the efforts of EJI did not make all citizens happy.

NOTE: If you plan to see the movie, you may want to skip to the last paragraph.

Foxx admirably plays a convicted man named Walter McMillan who was railroaded based on faulty testimony and suppressed evidence. When Stevenson sought a new trial after the key witness (played by Tim Blake Nelson) recanted, a police officer said the crime scene was altered and seventeen witnesses said McMillan was at a fish fry at his house, the judge still did not grant a new trial.

So, Stevenson appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and the court of public opinion on “60 Minutes.” The Supreme Court granted a new trial and after some posturing the new District Attorney agreed to Stevenson’s motion to dismiss the charges. Stevenson noted that seventeen witnesses were ignored because they were black. As they stood in the back of the new trial, before charges were dismissed, he noted that any one of them could have the same thing happen to them.

Stevenson has gone on to help free countless men on death row. A statistic revealed at the end is for every person put to death, there is 1 in 9 on death row who are innocent, a very high rate of error. A few final thoughts are as follows:

– the trial occurred in Monroeville, AL in the late 1980s, the home of Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
– the Sheriff who helped contrive the evidence was reelected six times and just retired.
– it amazes me that law enforcement who contrive (or suppress) evidence to convict someone don’t fully comprehend that the real killer is still out there – the family of the victim deserves real justice over expedience.
– McMillan’s story is not unusual. The story highlights at the end, another death row neighbor of McMillan’s was freed thirty years later.

I have seen documentaries about Stevenson. He is smart, soft-spoken, and determined. He cares about his clients, so when he cannot prevent an execution, it is disheartening. The movie is definitely worth your time, especially with the unnecessary divisiveness going on in our country that is fueling more hate groups. The key ammunition against this is education, awareness and advocacy.