Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

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When did Stevenson and Ansley find a chance for federal funding to create a death row legal center in Just Mercy?

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Bryan Stevenson and Eva Ansley discover an opportunity to get federal funding in 1988 in Just Mercy.

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Bryan Stevenson and Eva Ansley discover an opportunity to receive federal funding for their legal center in the first chapter of Stevenson’s memoir. Early on in “Mockingbird Players” (the title of the first chapter), Stevenson writes that he and Ansley found out about a chance to receive federal funding in 1988.

At the time, Stevenson was working at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). The SPDC was stationed in Atlanta, but Stevenson began to take up the case of Walter McMillian, who was on death row in Alabama for allegedly killing a white woman that he was romantically involved with. The judge told Stevenson that he would not be accommodating. If Stevenson wanted to represent McMillian, he would have to travel to Alabama. Sticking by his client, Stevenson went to Alabama.

In Alabama, Stevenson described a “growing crisis”: hundreds of men were put on death row without adequate legal representation, since Alabama lacked a public defender system. To tackle the calamity, Ansley (who was already running a prison project in Alabama) and Stevenson teamed up to create the aforementioned legal center. To finance the center, they hoped to use federal funding.

One year later, in 1989, they were able to open the center. However, they were not actually able to receive federal funding. In order to get federal funding, they had to first get funding from the state. Alabama was not inclined to give Stevenson and Ansley’s center funding. Instead, the two had to figure out how to raise money for their center on their own.

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