WHAT IT TAKES TO CHANGE THE WORLD
Some people believe all it takes to change the world is to have a good idea, to have a good plan, to have a skill, to be smart, and to work hard.
Those people are wrong.
It takes all of the above plus conviction and hope.
The film JUST MERCY teaches us that lesson.
JUST MERCY is a film based on a true story.
JUST MERCY is about an unjust legal system.
The film tells the story of a black man wrongfully convicted of murdering a white woman in Monroe County, Alabama.
An all white jury, the prosecutor, the chief of police, the entire white police force, white townspeople, and a trial judge did not care about truth or justice when that black man was on trial for murder.
A corrupt white judge did not care about truth or justice or that an innocent man had been wrongfully convicted of murder and was on death row waiting for his execution date to be set when he ruled on a motion to reopen the case, when he denied a motion to give the wrongfully convicted black man a new trial.
THE OPENING SCENE
In the opening scene we see, Bryan Stevenson’s mother telling Bryan:
“If you don’t recognize the danger in what you are doing, you wasted your time going to Harvard Law School and you should ask for your money back.”“Out there in Alabama they are going to chew you up and spit you out.”
“It isn’t my job to make people happy. It is my job to see that justice is done.”“I know what it is like to live in the shadows.”“I want to fight for people who need help the most.”“That is why I am doing this.”
Attorney Stevenson arrives in Monroe County Alabama at an office building where he is greeted by his assistant Eva Ansley and the landlord who are having a heated discussion.
The Landlord tells Bryan:
“I am sorry I can’t rent this space to you.”“I didn’t know you were going to set up a law firm/legal clinic to represent convicted murders on death row.”“I can’t have that kind of law firm in my building.”
Attorney Stevenson walks into the W.C. Holman Correctional Facility to have a meeting with Walter McMillian, his first prospective client.
The guard at the door entering into the hallway to the meeting room tells Attorney Stevenson:
“You can’t go in until I complete a complete body search.”
“You can’t do that; I am his lawyer.”
Attorney Stevenson is taking off all his clothes in front of the guard.
After he has removed all his clothes, the guard tells him:
“I have to do a complete body search.”“Spread them.”
THE CASE AGAINST MCMILLIAN
There was no direct evidence that McMillian killed the white woman.
The prosecution was based on the testimony of one witness.
That witness testified that shorty after the murder of the white woman, he saw McMillian and the dead white woman in the Dry Cleaning establishment where the white woman had just been murdered.
Attorney Stevenson tirelessly conducted a through investigation.
A LIGHT MOMENT
While Stevenson was looking at records of the case in police department record archives, a black clerk asked Stevenson black secretary:
“Is he married?”
His secretary replied:
“No.“But, he is married to his work.”
FRUITS OF DILIGENCE
While looking through police records, Attorney Stevenson finds a taped interview.
In the interview the Chief of Police asked the key witness to testify that he saw McMillian at the scene of the murder.
The Key Witness replies: “I would never say that! I did not see him there!”
THE KEY WITNESS
With much difficulty and after exerting much charm, Attorney Stevenson asks the key witness:
“Why did you change your mind?”“Why did you tell the police chief that you would not testify that you saw McMillian at the dry cleaners and then testify at the trial that you saw McMillian there?
Leading up to those key questions, Stevenson asked the key witness:
“Do you have any children?
The key witness replied:
“Yes I do.”“I have three children.”“I thought having a child would be like having a dog.”“I was wrong.”“I wish someone would have told me having a child is not like having a dog.”
Attorney Stevenson then told the key witness that:
“ McMillian has children and a wife.”“He loves his children and his wife and his wife and his children love him.”
THE KEY WITNESS’S STORY
The key witness was an orphan.
He had been raised by abusive foster care parents.
On time he was in bed and his pajamas caught on fire.
His skin burned.
He has never forgot the smell of his burning flesh.
Every since then he has been deadly afraid of fire.
He was in jail for robbery at the time the police chief asked him to lie about seeing McMillian at the scene of the crime.
After he refused to lie, the Police Chief had him transferred to a cell on death row.
Shortly after he got to his cell one of the inmates was electrocuted – the smell of burning flesh attacked him in his cell.
The Police Chief then talked to him again.
He then agreed to give false testimony at the upcoming murder trial.
MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
Attorney Stevenson prepared and submitted a motion for new trial.
The key witness testified at the hearing on the motion.
During his testimony he recanted his prior testimony. He testified that he had lied.
He testified that he had not scene McMillian at the scene of the crime.
Another witness testified that the key witness could not have seen McMillian at the scene of the crime because he was working with him in a garage fixing a transmission.
The judge denied the motion for new trial.
SEE THE MOVIE
Ask yourself: Why did the police arrest McMillian in the first place.
You should see the movie if you want to know what happened next.
Gary Smolker, Movie Reviewer, Values Critic, and Trial Attorney