Stevenson requests a direct appeal of Walter’s conviction. In his written brief, he notes several flaws in Walter’s case, including faulty witness testimonies, State misconduct, racial bias in jury selection, and an unnecessary judge override of the jury’s life sentence. At the appeals court in Montgomery, Stevenson appears before Chief Judge John Patterson, the KKK-backed former Alabama governor notorious for resisting de-segregation and refusing to allow law enforcement to protect the Freedom Riders from violent mobs. At the end of Stevenson’s oral argument, Judge Patterson responds by asking Stevenson where he is from. Stevenson, caught off guard, responds that he “lives in Montgomery.” Stevenson regrets dissuading Walter’s family from requesting time off to travel to Montgomery, now wondering if their supportive presence would have helped distinguish Walter’s case. The State’s lawyer defends Walter’s conviction as “routine” and his sentence as “appropriately imposed.” Judge Patterson denies the appeal.
Judge Patterson’s background illustrates the entrenched culture that makes it difficult to secure justice for Walter. By resisting de-segregation, which was a federally issued mandate, Patterson demonstrated his willingness to break the law in order to preserve the practice of discriminating against black people. Stevenson’s arguments, which claim that Walter’s conviction was faulty because of racial bias and illegal proceedings, likely seem irrelevant to Patterson, who has demonstrated his loyalty to racist traditions over the law. Patterson isn’t the first person in the book to question where Stevenson is from: this illustrates the importance that Stevenson places on the anti-outsider mentality he encountered in Southern courts.
Stevenson encourages Walter to remain hopeful because they have new evidence and several remaining options, including a reconsideration of the direct appeal decision. Stevenson recently hired Michael O’Connor, a son of Irish immigrants and recovered heroin addict originally from a rough neighborhood. Though Michael regards his history of addiction with regret, Stevenson sees his background as an asset to their work. Stevenson and his colleagues have discovered records showing that county officials paid Bill Hooks and “somehow” had his city criminal charges dropped, which is information that the State should legally have disclosed pre-trial. They also found flyers advertising the fish fry held at Walter’s house, which confirmed it was held the day of the murder. They contacted Walter’s mechanic, who discredited Bill Hook’s testimony by confirming that the mechanic modified Walter’s truck six months after Ronda’s murder. Finally, a clerk at the store where Myers was asked to identify Walter confirms that Myers had to ask which black man was Walter.
Stevenson’s determination to pursue all available recourses for Walter demonstrates his perseverance and commitment to this case. Stevenson’s positive reaction to Michael’s story of addiction serves to reinforce the book’s emphasis on the importance of redemption. By framing Michael’s past mistakes as assets, Stevenson implies that he values having staff members who can identify with the population they serve. Michael’s past allows him to see clients as more fully human, and enables clients to trust Michael more easily. Stevenson implies that county officials conducted illegal activity, which they intentionally hid. Further, he implies that the corruption included collaboration with city officials.
EJI receives a surprising call from Myers. Although wary of his intentions, they know the case rests on his testimony. When he and Michael meet him at St. Clair prison, Stevenson (who had developed a “larger-than-life image” of Myers) is surprised by Myers’ fragility. Myers immediately declares that, “everything [he] said at McMillian’s trial was a lie.” Myers agrees to recant in court, explaining that he attends a therapy group that encourages self-reflection. Promising that his wrongs could “top” them all, he had told the group about his false testimony and they encouraged him to “make it right.” Myers explains his role in Vickie Pittman’s murder, his forced testimony against Walter and his placement on death row as retaliation by the state. He says he had come clean to several officials, including Ted Pearson. Stevenson considers the immense implications of this corruption. Myers dramatically warns: “they’ll try to kill you if you actually get to the bottom of everything.”
Stevenson’s previous conceptions of Myers illustrate the role of the imagination in forming an image of someone, a concept often elaborated on in the book. Myer’s need to “top” the others in therapy supports Stevenson’s depiction of Myers as dramatic and attention seeking. The prison therapy group exposes Myers to a new set of values and offers him the attention and support that he had sought through more destructive means. This positive depiction of mental health services demonstrates that rehabilitation can take precedent over punishment. Myers’ example also places an emphasis on communities as powerful in forming collective values.
Going home, Stevenson and Michael discuss the corruption Myers described, including his accusation that a local sheriff organized the Pittman murder in reaction to “drug debts and threats she had made to expose corruption.” They decide to get more information from Karen Kelly, who is serving 10 years at the Tutwiler Women’s Prison for the Pittman murder. Karen confirms that Myers never met Walter, and informs them that during her own criminal investigations, Sheriff Tate had taunted her for “sleep[ing] with niggers.” She expresses her regrets that her drug abuse and associations led to such severe consequences for Walter, and asks them to send him her apologies and concern.
If Myers’ statements are true, the EJI is uncovering information that goes beyond Walter’s case and implicates the entire local law enforcement system as abusive, corrupt, and possibly murderous. Sheriff Tate’s comments to Karen imply that he was been particularly fixated on her relationship with a black man, even prior to Myers accusations against Walter. This supports Stevenson’s suspicion that racial hatred played into Tate’s indictment of Walter.
To learn more about the Pittman murder, Stevenson and Michael arrange to meet with Vickie Pittman’s twin aunts, Onzelle and Mozelle. The two independent, gun-owning women, who “present themselves as fearless [and] relentless,” are hospitable and direct during their visit. They agree that they too suspected police involvement and Vickie’s father, Vic Pittman. They explain that they have felt dismissed by local officials and the State’s victims rights group, saying that everyone has “treated [them] like [they] were low-class white trash.”
Stevenson’s vibrant description of Mozelle and Onzelle serves to humanize them and show their strength, which contrasts with their position as victims and their statements about not being taken seriously by officials. Their claim that they’ve been treated like “white trash” serves as an example of systematic class discrimination, adding to the book’s portrayal of systematic injustices and discrimination.
Stevenson writes that in previous decades, the State considered crimes against one person to be crimes against the community. In the 1980’s, prosecutors began focusing more on the stories of individual victims to “personalize” the suffering the crime had caused. Victims became more involved in sentencing and parole boards. He argues that for poor and minority victims, this created a hierarchy among victims based on race, status and background. He writes that crimes against black and poor victims have received much more lenient sentences and less support from police and officials, and he argues that this discrimination contributed to the disrespect felt by families like Mozelle and Onzelle. They tell Stevenson that he is the first person to visit them to discuss Vickie’s murder, and Stevenson assures them he will do his best to uncover more information.
Stevenson’s historical account of victims’ rights illustrates the cultural change from a collective to a more individualistic society. While he argues that the new focus on individual victims enabled discrimination, he also shows that the practice was first aimed at humanizing the suffering of victims. Elsewhere in the book, Stevenson argues for the importance of seeing the condemned as real people. This apparent contradiction suggests that Stevenson isn’t so much arguing against seeing victims as full people, so much as against the social hierarchy that uses the individualization of victims to discriminate against the disadvantaged.
With Walter’s direct appeal pending, Stevenson and Michael file a Rule 32 petition, which would allow them to move directly to a postconviction collateral appeal. At this point, they determine they need access to all of the police, prosecution, prison and ABI files associated with Walter’s case, and the Rule 32 petition would require officials to release them. Unexpectedly, the Alabama Supreme Court approves the petition, indicating they too see something “unusual” about Walter’s case. In a meeting at District Attorney Tom Chapman’s office, Stevenson meets Sheriff Tate and Investigator Larry Ikner for the first time. At this point, it is publicly known that EJI is accusing Tate and Ikner of illegal activity. They hand over all of their files, “remain[ing] civil” except for calling Michael a “Yankee”. Stevenson has them sign off on the files’ contents, despite Chapman’s insistence that he should trust them as fellow “men of the court”.
Stevenson’s assertion that the Court must also see something “unusual” about Walter’s case serves to reinforce Stevenson’s suspicions regarding corruption. Given the discoveries that Ikner and Tate know Stevenson and Michael have made about them, their interactions seem all the more loaded with unspoken contempt. Their only insult, calling Michael a “Yankee”, reinforces their pride in their confederate history and their contempt for the involvement of outsiders. Chapman treats Stevenson’s request for signatures as a sign of distrust, suggesting that among themselves they routinely skip legalities that would hold each other accountable.
At home, Stevenson and Michael now read through all of the documents they’ve collected from different sources, including from the mental institution where Myers was admitted, the ABI, and the Pittman murder files from Escambia County. Seeing repeated mentions of the same officials connected to the Pittman murder, they begin to agree with the accusations made by Myers, Mozelle and Onzelle. Stevenson writes: “It wasn’t long after that when the bomb threats started.”
By choosing to write about the bomb threats just after he describes his growing suspicion about the Pittman murder, Stevenson implies that the threats may be coming from officials who wish to deter him from finding out the truth. Despite Myers dramatic way of speaking, his warning that “they” would try to kill Stevenson now seem much more reasonable.