Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

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How does Stevenson depict the justice system's lack of mercy in chapters 7-8 of Just Mercy?

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In chapter 7, Stevenson seeks a direct appeal of Walter McMillian's criminal conviction. He writes a brief in support of the appeal, highlighting the injustices (or "lack of mercy") that McMillian faced at the trial level. These injustices include unreliable witness testimony against him, racial bias in the jury selection, prosecutor misconduct, and the judge's override of the jury's life sentence verdict that resulted in McMillian receiving the death penalty. In this chapter, the judge also embodies a lack of mercy in the criminal justice system when he denies McMillian's appeal. In denying the appeal, the judge accepts the prosecutor's characterization of McMillian's conviction and sentence as "routine" and "appropriately imposed." Rather than see the specific due process and constitutional violations that McMillian faced at the trial level, the judge coldly denies the appeal, proving the lack of mercy embodied in the criminal justice system.

The lack of mercy in the criminal justice system is further demonstrated by Stevenson's conversation with Myers, the state's key witness. Myers admits that he lied on the stand and highlights the state corruption that he witnessed and of which he was a victim. Specifically, Myers explains that he was forced by the state to testify against McMillian and that he was put on death row as retribution, not because he actually deserved it. Stevenson also highlights the racism and classism that pervades the criminal justice system in this chapter, including not only the discrimination that McMillian faced but also the class discrimination that Vickie Pittman's twin aunts faced, as they recount that their statements were dismissed and that they were not taken seriously because they were viewed as "white trash." From his discussion of the injustices that McMillian faced to his description of the discrimination that victims faced, Stevenson portrays a criminal justice system that embodies a severe lack of mercy.

In chapter 8, Stevenson recounts the stories of Trina Garrett, Ian Manuel, and Antonio Nunez, who all embody the lack of mercy in the criminal justice system. Garrett was only fourteen years old when she broke into a friend's house and accidentally caught the house on fire as she lit her way with matches. As a result of the fire, two boys died. Garrett was represented by incompetent counsel who did not even attempt to move her case to juvenile court, given that she was only fourteen years old at the time. Garrett's case also represents the lack of mercy in the criminal justice system by highlighting the lack of discretion that the judge had in imposing her sentence. Even though the judge himself might have believed that Garrett did not possess murderous intent, he was required to impose a life sentence as a result of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Ian Manuel was also a victim of these harsh mandatory sentencing laws, as well as incompetent counsel. A homeless thirteen-year-old, Manuel robbed a couple at gunpoint with two other boys. When the victim fought back, Manuel shot and killed her. His lawyer was not knowledgeable of the mandatory sentencing laws and recommended that Manuel plead guilty to attempted homicide, which netted Manuel a life sentence. As a vulnerable juvenile, Manuel was put in solitary confinement for years, which caused severe mental and emotional issues.

Lastly, Stevenson recounts the story of Antonio Nunez, who suffered a rough childhood before he was pressured into joining a fake kidnapping plot, which resulted in him shooting at police and being charged with aggravated kidnapping and attempted murder of police. At sentencing, Nunez was likely racially profiled and was given no mercy, with the judge characterizing him as irredeemable and violent. He was sentenced to life in prison. All of these stories throughout chapter 8 exemplify the harshness of the criminal justice system and its "lack of mercy." Specifically, they emphasize the lack of mercy that juveniles, particularly those who are minorities, face at every level of the system.

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