Author: Bryan Stevenson
APA Style Citation
Stevenson, Bryan (2015). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. New York: Random House.
Just Mercy is an engaging series of true stories related to the fight for equality in the American justice system. The memoir describes the journey of the author who dedicated his career to helping those who are the most vulnerable in society. Stevenson holds degrees from Harvard Law and the Kennedy School of Government and chose to dedicate his talents and career fighting for civil rights law in the South. Stevenson is an attorney who has spent his career working to ensure that the most vulnerable individuals in society such as children, the mentally ill, the poor, and the wrongfully convicted receive a fair trial. His non-profit organization, the Equal Justice Initiative works to offer legal assistance to those who face discrimination in the justice system.
The book is a combination of historical background information and the detailed accounts of many of Stevenson’s most memorable cases. One early case involved Walter McMillian, a black man who was wrongly convicted and given the death sentence for the murder of a white woman in Alabama. Despite numerous witness that testified that the accused was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime, McMillian was sentenced based largely on the testimony of three other witnesses. The trial lasted only one and half days. After spending six years on death row, Stevenson and the Equal Justice Institute were able to prove that witnesses for the prosecution lied on the stand and that the prosecution had illegally suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Mr. McMillian.
The Equal Justice Institute also helped overturn the wrongful conviction of Marsha Colbey who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after giving birth to a stillborn child. Ms. Colbey, a poor white woman living in rural Alabama could not afford prenatal care and she and her family buried the stillborn child in a grave near the trailer where they lived. An investigation began when a neighbor noticed Ms. Colbey was no longer pregnant yet did not have a baby. A pathologist with a history of creating inaccurate and faulty reports declared that the baby was born alive and died by drowning. During her trial, the pathologist's report was exposed as inaccurate by the state’s own expert witness, who testified that due to Colbey’s age and lack of prenatal care that a stillbirth likely. The expert witness further stressed that he could not declare a life birth much less a homicide in this case. The state of Alabama obtained a conviction based on evidence regarding Ms. Colbey’s prior drug use and poverty to present a picture of her as a bad mother who deserved imprisonment. The Equal Justice Institute was able to win a unanimous decision from the state Supreme Court overturning her conviction based on a failure to provide a fair trial by an impartial jury. The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences agreed to re-examine the evidence in the case and produced a new autopsy report concluding that there was no evidence that the baby was born alive.
Just Mercy highlights many of the problems in the justice system including flaws in investigations, trials, sentencing, and prison. The book thoroughly investigates issues related to the intersection between psychology and the law. The books primarily focus on the problems of mass incarceration, and the effects of prison on children, adolescents, the mentally ill and the intellectually disabled. Numerous aspects and events in this book can be used to highlight topics in social psychology including racial profiling, implicit prejudice, stereotype threat, and discrimination.
Other Related Resources
The author’ website provides information about the book, the author's biography, links to stories in the book, videos, discussion guides, and ways to get involved in promoting justice.
Author Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk
The author’s TED talk which has received over 3 million views on the TED site alone. Considered by many to be the best TED talk ever given. Stevenson spoke in March of 2012 in front of 1,000 attendees at the TED conference in Long Beach, California. After an 18-minute presentation, Stevenson received the longest standing ovation in TED history. Attendees that day spontaneously donated $1 million dollars to his nonprofit (the Equal Justice Institute).
Equal Justice Institute Website
The Equal Justice Initiative is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. EJI also prepares reports, newsletters, and manuals to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of reforming the administration of criminal justice. Photographs and summaries of many of the cases from the book as well as other EJI cases are available on the website. The website provides a great deal of information on discrimination, the death penalty, mass incarceration, and juvenile justice.
Equal Justice Institute article on the decision of the U.S. Justice Department to end the use of private prisons
Guardian Article about author Bryan Stevenson – Desmund Tuto calls Stevenson “America’s Mandela.”
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Death Penalty for children, mentally ill, intellectually disabled
Equal Justice Initiative
Prejudice (Explicit and Implicit)