Saturday, September 17, 2016

Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption-A Book Review

Overview From Barnes and Noble

#1 New York Times Bestseller | Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • Time
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction | Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction | Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award | Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize | Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize | An American Library Association Notable Book

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

"Each of us is worth more than the worst thing we have ever done."

Most of this story revolves around the plight of one man: Walter McMillan. Walter lived in the home town of Harper Lee. Walter was a black man with a white girlfriend. He was framed for the murder of a clerk in a  dry cleaner store. The sheriff and the DA manufactured evidence and bribed witnesses to help send Walter to death row. For a crime he did not commit. There was even evidence of exactly where he was when the murder was committed but it wasn't allowed into the courtroom. This man was held on death row for 6 years before the author, Bryan Stevenson, was able to exonerate him. 

This author is also a champion of the mentally ill and children who are sentenced to death or life in prison.  I did not realize how many of this country's kids are serving time in prison. I do not know what the answer is to the problems of justice in our country. It is true that rich people are given a much better chance of proving their innocence when charged with a crime. "We must reform a system that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent." 

Here in my hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas, we just completed the trial of a young, middle-class, white, teenager, who at the age of 14 set the family home on fire and killed his mother and sister. His father managed to escape. There was no evidence shown of him having been abused or mistreated at home. He was a normal child. He wasn't bullied at school. He wasn't mistreated at home. It took 3 years before the case finally went to court. He was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of felony murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of aggravated arson. He was tried as an adult. If Byran Stevenson were to help this teenage boy he would not want this child to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. He finds that kind of punishment as "cruel". This young man will be sentenced later this month. 

So while I enjoyed reading the book (if that is the right choice of words) it also provoked in me a lot of thoughts about crime and justice. I don't have the answers. I don't know what should happen to Sam Vonachen (the young teen who burned his house down and killed his mom and sister). I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. But, I do feel he should be punished. And punished in such a manner that he will be unable to kill another person in his lifetime. 

What are your thoughts on capital punishment? What about kids? Should they be put to death for their crimes or spend life in prison without parole? Or is there a number of years that are appropriate??

Reading this book will not give you the answers. But I guarantee it will make you think. And it will make you hope that you are NEVER falsely accused of any crime. 

I'm giving the book **** four stars. 


  1. Interesting book. I think I would be compelled to read it down the road.

    I used to tell myself, my husband, and even my son that some of his friends (and even himself) that who they were at 16, 17, or 18 years old would not be who they were at 24, 25, 26 and beyond years of age. Those teen years are hard ones for some, both kids and parents. That young man in your area will have to face it for the rest of his life that he killed his mom and his sister. I don't know what his state of mind was when he did it, but it is possible it will be a different state of mind and there could be a considerable amount of remorse and regret.

    I think capital punishment is necessary in some cases. In some it might even be merciful. Imagine as a young person in their 20s committing a crime and then spending the rest of their lives into their 70s and 80s in jail without the possibility of parole.

    For a young child under the age of 20, 21, I don't think capital punishment should be an option. I remember serving on a jury a few years ago when a young man made a made decision to hang around people he probably shouldn't have been hanging around and although he did absolutely nothing wrong (other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time) someone got killed as a result of a robbery and because he was there, he got charged with felony murder (though he had nothing to do with killing the person) and finally pleaded instead of the case going to the jury. At the age of 18 he got sentenced to 17 years of prison (could have potentially been 25-50 years). I would hope in prison he would have not allowed it to harden him, but would have taken the opportunity of whatever programs were available and when he could get out of prison be a whole different person than went in, hopefully a better person.

    Punishment needs to happen. I'm just not sure what the appropriate punishment is for some cases. I have a friend whose dad did something that merited punishment but got 30 years fro it when others who did far worse got only a few short years. Sadly he will more than likely die in prison at his age, yet he did deserve to be punished, but I'm not sure if he deserved to be punished that severely.


    1. It is hard to understand why someone decides to kill. If capital punishment is not allowed then do we keep them in prison for life? That could be 60-70 years for a teenager. I just don't know what the answer is. The system really needs to be figured out!

  2. Hi Paula - I've heard him being interviewed and I think he's done a TED talk ... he's very inspiring and fascinating to listen - a leader if there ever was one. I shall look out for the book ... thanks for sharing ... cheers Hilary

  3. Oh my goodness, but I caught myself bristling before the end of B&N's overview.
    There's no doubt, what happened to Walter McMillan was a, a .... heck, I can't think of an appropriate word to describe that outrage. Unfortunately, I'm sure there are others like him, unjustly convicted, whose cases will never be championed.

    You're right about the rich being treated differently. 'Still shaking my head at the absurdity of Brock Turner's so-called incarceration.

    That said, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like Mr. Stevenson one little bit. I'm an unapologetic advocate of capital punishment, regardless of one's age. That, or being forced to serve on the front lines over in Afghanistan. (Remember "The Dirty Dozen"?)

    Like you wrote, I'm enormously grateful I don't have to make those sorts of decisions.

    1. I know how you feel Myra. That is why you and I have become such good friends. We see eye to eye on many of these things. I don't think I would like Mr. Stevenson either. Many of the race problems we have now are championed by men like Mr. Stevenson, in my opinion.

  4. I'm completely against capital punishment. There's no need for it. As for children who commit crimes... I don't know. That's a hard one. I think for me, it's a matter of "rehabilitation". Will they do something like that ever again? Did they learn from it? And that's not something the criminal justice system can check.

    1. I do not know how I feel about kids and rehabilitation. I remember a case that happened in the 1980's here in Kansas where a teen and his friend killed his grandmother, mother, and 2 siblings. They were sent to juvenile detention where they stayed until age 21. The son left and was a problem until he died in an auto accident. He didn't come out being rehabilitated in any way. And his family never got a second chance.

  5. I am opposed to capital punishment. Minnesota abolished it in 1911, so I grew up without it, but that's not why I am opposed. I am opposed for largely the same reasons as itemized on an interesting website that lists the pros on cons based on arguments for or against the death penalty:
    My opposition to the death penalty became stronger based on a trip I made to the Ellis Unit of the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville and a conversation I had with a prison employee. At the time of my visit, the Ellis Unit was the location of the men's death row in state of Texas. False accusations, bribery for false testimony, planted 'evidence to support a false claim, lazy or overworked defenders... Lots of 'what ifs'.

    1. I totally agree with you. However, I don't know how I would feel if the person being executed had tortured and murdered one of my loved ones. I just don't know. I do know that after reading this book it seems that what always happens in court may not be the truth! I just don't know!! It was a good book, wasn't it?

  6. It is very true that our justice system is broken and that the rich recieve better and more fair treatment and that sometimes justice will turn a blind eye on the sins of the wealthy. It is also true that if you are poor and charged with a crime, you will be found guilty regardless of whether or not this is true. I don't know the answer. I do think that our system, as flawed as it is, is the best system but it still leaves much to be desired.

    1. I agree with you Wendy! No matter what people think of our justice system, it is still better than many other countries have. It needs an over-haul but until that happens I will still take my chances in America!


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