Just Mercy

Just Mercy

Just Mercy Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Shortly after Herbert’s execution, Stevenson visits death row to catch up with several new clients, including Walter. Afterward, he travels to Monroeville to meet Walter’s large extended family. Gathered together in a small trailer, they passionately explain to Stevenson their indignation at Walter’s conviction, particularly when they were all with him at the time of the murder. Stevenson writes that the family’s hums of agreement were the kind of “wordless testimony of struggle and anguish” he heard “all the time growing up in a rural black church.” Walter’s sister Armelia expresses that the court’s dismissal of Walter’s alibi makes her feel that she has been “convicted too.” A debate arises about whether or not Walter, whom they call “Johnny D”, even needed an alibi, given his upstanding character.
The response of Walter’s family illustrates that wrongs within the criminal justice system impact not only the condemned but also their families. This is an example of the phenomenon Stevenson earlier referred to as “collateral consequences.” Armelia’s statement about feeling “convicted too” reveals the message that the courts have (perhaps involuntarily) conveyed to Walter’s family: by refusing to take the family’s word that Walter was with them when the murder happened, the court denied the importance of their voices and experiences and held other voices and experiences as being more valid.
Themes
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Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
Stevenson rewinds to his arrival at Walter’s home. He first notices the home’s disrepair and the familiar signs of poverty. Walter’s wife Minnie warmly greets Stevenson and she offers him something to eat. She discusses her difficult 12-hour shifts at “the plant” and her employer’s indifference to her health. She strikes Stevenson as “strong and patient.” Minnie is determined to continue supporting their daughter Jackie, who, they often proudly repeat, is in college. Stevenson thinks about the publicity surrounding Walter’s affairs and the pain this must cause her. Stevenson is still reviewing Walter’s records, yet he already suspects local law enforcement of illegal maneuvers. He echoes Minnie and Jackie’s anger, although he is “wary of expressing such strong opinions” just yet. He feels outraged by the case, especially by the “hopelessness” it has caused the local black community. Minnie surprises Stevenson with news that their extended family is waiting to meet him nearby.
Stevenson’s depiction of Walter’s home coupled with Minnie’s struggle to support their family serve to counter the state’s image of Walter as a wealthy drug dealer. By portraying Minnie’s hard work, her “strength and patience,” and her dedication to her family, Stevenson shows how women step up to take on the roles of both mother and father when fathers are incarcerated. Walter and Minnie’s pride in Jackie suggests not only the sacrifices they have made to send her to college, but also the hope she symbolizes to them for the future. Stevenson’s choice to speak more freely with Walter’s family illustrates that he is growing more personally affected by the case.
Themes
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Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
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Stevenson, Minnie and Jackie travel down a long, isolated road, until they reach “an entire community hidden away in the woods.” When Stevenson first enters the trailer of Walter’s relatives, everyone stares at him for a moment before breaking out into applause. He expresses his gratitude and relays messages of love and appreciation from Walter. They apologize that they have no money and they offer to give Stevenson whatever they have, but Stevenson explains that EJI is a nonprofit. Despite their kindness, he senses their anxiety. He explains the appeals process to the family and the other community members who have come, and this offers them some hope. They talk until midnight, discussing the case and “jok[ing] some,” and Stevenson feels “embraced in a way that energized” him.
Stevenson’s description of Walter’s family as living in an “entire community hidden away in the woods” represents the marginalization of the black community in Monroeville. Even though his interactions illustrate the vibrancy of the community, he also shows how they are “hidden away,” or made less visible both through geographic segregation and political repression. Stevenson’s portrayal of his visit with Walter’s family illustrates his own need for a sense of community. In this way, he demonstrates that the exchange isn’t one-sided.
Themes
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On the drive back to Montgomery, Stevenson thinks of a story he read in college from the 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois. In “Of the Coming of John,” a black community in Georgia pools their resources to send young John to a teaching college. John returns and starts a school for the community’s children, where he emphasizes “freedom and racial equality.” The white community feels threatened, and a judge terminates the school. John finds the judge’s son attacking his sister, and he knocks the judge’s son down. The judge organizes a lynch mob and they kill John. Stevenson writes that as the first in his own family to attend college, he has always related to John’s position as the “hope of an entire community.” Stevenson ponders the meaning of John’s murder to the community who had invested their hopes in him, and he sees a parallel in the anguish felt by Walter’s community.
Like John in the story, Stevenson and Walter have both had important roles in their communities and their respective fates have had a strong impact on their communities. Stevenson illustrates the strength of marginalized communities and the sacrifice and collaboration that goes into creating a better future for future generations. Through the story by Du Bois, Stevenson nods to the history of resistance from white communities when black communities find ways to defeat established structures of power in order to seek equality. This passage conveys Stevenson’s growing awareness of the “collateral consequences” of miscarriages of justice.
Themes
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Stevenson describes his growing familiarity with Walter. He writes of the many local white people who defend Walter’s character, including Sam Crook, a self-proclaimed son of Confederates who worked with Walter. Crook calls Stevenson to offer his help, saying he and his friends won’t let them “string [Walter] up.” Stevenson learns that Walter is curious and thoughtful about the motivations and suffering of others, even the guards. One day, Walter expresses his concern for Stevenson’s heavy workload, advising him not to “kill himself” trying to “help everybody.” Walter is forthcoming about his mistakes, particularly his infidelities. Stevenson writes that his caseload at the time made it difficult for him to have a social life, and that many of his clients became his friends, especially Walter. He argues that, while this made him more emotionally invested, it also fostered the trust that was necessary for Stevenson to learn more intimate background information that could help the client’s case.
The example of Sam Crook not only supports Stevenson’s points about Walter’s character, but it further suggests Stevenson’s interest in the contradictions of human character. Sam may be proud to descend from Confederates, who fought to keep black people enslaved, but unlike many other white men in Monroeville, he would rather use his power to protect rather than harm Walter. Stevenson depicts the extent of Walter’s empathy by writing about Walter’s concern for Stevenson’s wellbeing and his thoughtfulness toward the guards. Rather than accepting traditional professional boundaries. Stevenson sees his friendships with his clients as an asset.
Themes
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A man named Darnell Houston contacts Stevenson saying he can disprove the testimony of Bill Hooks because they were working together on the morning of Ronda’s death. Darnell explains that after Walter’s conviction, he had informed Chestnut and Boynton, but Judge Key had denied their motion for a new trial. Stevenson files a motion for the judge to reconsider. Before he gets a response, the police indict Darnell for perjuring his testimony to Walter’s lawyers the year before. Word has gotten out that Darnell was speaking with EJI, and Stevenson suspects that the state is retaliating. Stevenson writes that it is illegal to indict a witness for perjury without evidence, which the state doesn’t offer. He arranges to meet with the state’s new District Attorney, Tom Chapman. Unlike former District Attorney Ted Pearson, Chapman has a history in defense, so Stevenson is optimistic.
The timing of the state’s move to indict Darnell for a statement he made a year before, coupled with the state’s lack of evidence to support the perjury claim, work to support Stevenson’s suspicion that officials have discovered Darnell’s talks with EJI and are trying to prevent him from moving forward with his testimony. Darnell’s indictment and the judge’s previous denial of the motion to consider new evidence suggest that officials may know that Darnell’s testimony would dismantle Walter’s conviction. These facts further imply that the state may know that their case against Walter is unfounded.
Themes
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During their meeting at the Monroe County Courthouse, Stevenson’s hopes fade as Chapman expresses his unquestioning belief in Walter’s guilt, based mostly on the intensity of the local community’s anger. Stevenson argues that if the evidence in Walter’s conviction was faulty, it is the state’s duty to search for the truth, but Chapman evades Stevenson’s arguments. Stevenson finds it difficult to stay calm as he accuses the state of trying to “intimidate” people to suppress evidence, since there is no proof to support a perjury charge against Darnell. Chapman says he will drop the perjury charges, informing Stevenson that Judge Key denied Stevenson’s motion for retrial anyway. Stevenson is outraged by Chapman’s disregard for upholding the law and the state’s “abuse of power.” Leaving the courthouse, he is aggravated to see “yet another flyer about the next production of To Kill a Mockingbird.”
While Chapman’s background suggests that he might bring change to the local justice system, his interaction with Stevenson suggests that there will be more of the same in Monroeville. Chapman dismisses Stevenson’s arguments without addressing the legal basis of Stevenson’s claims, and instead Chapman bases his rebuttals only on public sentiment. This, along with Chapman’s willingness to drop the charges if there is no retrial, support Stevenson’s suggestion that Chapman’s loyalties are to politics rather than to the law. The flyer for To Kill a Mockingbird symbolizes the resilience of willful ignorance that Stevenson perceives in Monroe County.
Themes
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Stevenson tells Darnell about his meeting with Tom Chapman. Darnell is relieved that the charges are being dropped, but he is shaken and disheartened by the experience. He tells Stevenson, “All I wanted to do is tell the truth.” Now that the retrial has been denied, Stevenson’s next step in Walter’s case is to request a direct appeal. If that fails, Stevenson will have to put together a postconviction petition, which would require the court to admit new witnesses and new evidence. Stevenson worries that the state will continue to retaliate against those who challenge their conviction, and he fears that this could prevent witnesses like Darnell from testifying. As he drives home, Stevenson imagines the scenery decades before during the time of cotton plantations. He reflects that little has changed since then, considering the helplessness of Darnell, a black man, in the face of the state’s unchecked power and shameless abuse.
Stevenson explains the series of legal petitions available that might get Walter off of death row, and the order in which they can be submitted. The first step was the reconsideration for retrial motion. The second will be direct appeal. If that fails, the third will be a postconviction petition. Until this point, Stevenson has only read about the political corruption that surrounded Walter’s case. Now, he is experiencing it first hand. Through his reflections, Stevenson places the racial dynamics of Walter’s conviction in the context of historical oppression and danger to black people under white-dominated power structures.
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