Stevenson is the author, narrator, and protagonist of the book. He was born in a poor African American community in rural Delaware, attended Harvard Law School, and founded (with his friend Eva Ansley) the… (read full character analysis)
Walter’s legal case serves as the central storyline of the book. Born to a poor black family outside of Monroeville, Alabama, Walter became a successful small businessman as an adult. He had a large, tight-knit… (read full character analysis)
Ralph Myers is the man whose false accusation sends Walter to death row. Born to a poor, white, Southern family, Myers suffers from trauma-related psychological issues. Considered a low-life in Monroeville, Myers uses fantastical stories… (read full character analysis)
Steven Bright is the director of the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, an advocacy organization where Stevenson has an internship during law school and then works following his graduation. Steve is a mentor and inspiration… (read full character analysis)
As a child, Stevenson is especially close with his grandmother, who powerfully influenced his views toward the world and people. In particular, his grandmother is the source of the important advice that, in order to… (read full character analysis)
Judge Key presides over Walter’s original trial. He does not intervene in the State’s efforts to select an all-white jury and he collaborates with other state officials to secure Walter’s conviction. He calls Stevenson… (read full character analysis)
Harper Lee is the author of To Kill A Mockingbird. She was born in Monroe County (where Walter is from and was tried), and the county continues to proudly associate itself with her fame… (read full character analysis)
Minnie is Walter McMillian’s wife. Like Walter, she is from the poor black community just outside of Monroeville. She is resilient, patient, intelligent and hospitable. She supports and cares for her five children during Walter’s… (read full character analysis)
Karen Kelly is the younger white woman from Monroeville who has an affair with Walter prior to his conviction. The public scandal of their interracial affair defames Walter and infuriates some white residents of Monroeville… (read full character analysis)
Ronda Morrison was the young adult daughter of an influential local white family in Monroeville. On November 1st, 1986, Ronda was found murdered at her workplace, Monroe Cleaners. The white community is baffled… (read full character analysis)
Tate is the sheriff of Monroeville at the time of Ronda’s murder. He is the most active participant in police and State efforts to suppress evidence in order to illegally convict Walter. Tate… (read full character analysis)
Vickie Pittman was the woman murdered in Escambia County near the time of Ronda Morrison’s murder. Born to a poor, white, rural family, Vickie was beloved by her aunts, Onzelle and Mozelle. Due… (read full character analysis)
After Stevenson’s experience of racial profiling, he gives a speech in a rural Alabama church. The older man in the wheelchair advises him to “keep beating the drum for justice.” The old man is… (read full character analysis)
Benson is the ABI Investigator on Walter’s case. He works with Sherriff Tate and Larry Ikner to coerce Ralph Myers’ testimony and suppress evidence to secure Walter’s conviction. When the State finally launches a… (read full character analysis)
Chestnut and Boynton are the attorneys who are hired by Walter’s family to defend him during his original trials. Though they have a history of civil rights litigation, they fail to effectively investigate State and… (read full character analysis)
Pearson is the state prosecutor at the time of Walter’s indictment. He cooperates with police to suppress evidence and works with the courts to secure an all-white jury in Walter’s case. Stevenson speculates that… (read full character analysis)
Lindsey is one of the first men Stevenson represents after founding EJI. Lindsey was given a life sentence by the jury, but it was overridden by a judge who insisted on a death sentence… (read full character analysis)
The first execution that Stevenson witnesses is that of Herbert Richardson. Herbert is war veteran with a history of trauma and psychological health problems. He was charged with capital murder and sentenced to death after… (read full character analysis)
Chapman replaces Ted Pearson as the District Attorney for Monroe County. Unlike Pearson, he has a history of working as a public defender. He initially defends the State’s conviction of Walter McMillian and opposes EJI… (read full character analysis)
Charlie is the smart and well-behaved fourteen-year-old boy convicted of murdering his mother’s abusive boyfriend, George. He is sent to an adult jail, where he is repeatedly raped by other inmates. When Stevenson discovers… (read full character analysis)
Manuel is a young man from Florida who is convicted of assault and sentenced as a juvenile to life in prison. Because of his age, he is kept in solitary confinement. He develops psychological health… (read full character analysis)
Antonio is a young man in California who was sentenced to life in prison as a teenager for a non-homicide crime in which nobody was injured. Antonio’s history involves family and neighborhood violence, including the… (read full character analysis)
Trina was a homeless teenage girl in the 1970’s when she was convicted of murder. She unintentionally set her friend’s house on fire after breaking and entering, and two people died in the fire. Trina… (read full character analysis)
George Stinney was a fourteen-year-old African American boy executed in South Carolina in the 1930’s. George helped a search party look for two missing white girls and was later falsely arrested for their murders. Decades… (read full character analysis)
Ms. Williams is a respected elderly woman from the black community in Monroeville. Her presence at Walter’s Rule 32 hearing is significant because of her long history of involvement with civil rights battles. Having… (read full character analysis)
George is a man who suffered debilitating brain injuries related to a car accident. He is convicted of murder after an altercation with police that led to the death of an officer. George’s trial lawyers… (read full character analysis)
This is an unnamed guard at the prison where Avery Jenkins is held on death row. Initially, he tries to intimidate Stevenson by drawing attention to the Confederate symbols on his truck and by forcing… (read full character analysis)
Marsha is the poor white Alabama woman convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison after giving birth to a stillborn baby. The hard-working mother of six other children, Marsha was unable to afford… (read full character analysis)
Joe Sullivan was a thirteen-year-old convicted of rape and sentenced to life in an adult prison in Florida. Joe maintained that he had robbed but not raped his victim. Joe, who had suffered childhood abuse… (read full character analysis)
Eva Ansley is Stevenson’s friend and the Operations Director at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). She helps him to found EJI in 1989, despite struggles with securing space and funding. From EJI’s beginning, she manages many financial and logistical setbacks. She is creative and persistent.
Russell Charley was a black man and friend of Walter’s family. He was lynched in a community near Monroeville following suspicions of an interracial romance. Walter was a child when Russell was killed, and his death had a strong impact on Walter.
Charlie Bliss is one of Stevenson’s friends from Harvard Law School. Described as a “white kid from North Carolina,” Charlie is supportive of Stevenson and shares Stevenson’s indignation at the injustices in the world. They become roommates in Atlanta before Stevenson moves to Montgomery.
Ikner is the District Attorney Investigator on Walter’s case. He works with Sherriff Tate and Simon Benson to force Ralph Myers to testify against Walter. Along with Tate and Benson, he plays a crucial role in suppressing evidence and using bribery to secure Walter’s conviction.
Hooks is a black man who is bribed to corroborate Myers’ testimony against Walter. Sherriff Tate offers to arrange an early release for Hooks if he can testify that he saw Walter’s truck at Monroe Cleaners at the time of Ronda’s death. Hooks later recants his false testimony.
Welch is a furniture salesman in Monroeville and Ronda Morrison’s uncle. He visits Walter’s house on business on the morning of Ronda’s Morrison’s death. However, during Walter’s trial, Ernest claims that he visited Walter’s home on a different day.
Canan is the SPDC lawyer who represented John Evans, a man executed at Holman Prison shortly before Walter’s arrival on Holman’s death row.
John Evans is the man executed at Holman Prison shortly before Walter’s arrival on death row. Due to a malfunctioning electric chair, it takes three attempts for officials to finally kill Evans, resulting in a long, painful death.
Ritter is a man who is executed on Holman’s death row during Myers’ and Walter’s time there. Ritter’s execution has a profound effect on Myers’s unstable mental health. After Ritter’s execution, Myers gives into pressure from the state to testify against Walter in exchange for release from death row.
Hightower is a white man who is bribed to testify against Walter by corroborating Bill Hook’s testimony that Walter’s truck was outside Monroe Cleaners on the day of Ronda’s death. Prior to the trial, Walter had never seen or met Hightower. Years later, Hightower recants his false testimony.
Bagwell is the volunteer lawyer for Wayne Ritter, the man executed at Holman. After Ritter’s death, Bagwell publishes a widely-circulated article discouraging attorneys from representing death row inmates and declaring his own support for the death penalty. After Bagwell’s article, death row inmates have more trouble securing legal aid.
Dunkins is another one of the men Stevenson represents soon after founding EJI. Despite being mentally retarded, Dunkins is denied his late-stage appeals. After his botched execution, his body is autopsied despite protests from his religious family.
Governor Guy Hunt
Hunt was the governor of Alabama from 1987 to 1993. In the book, Hunt denies to stay several executions of EJI clients.
Herbert Richardson forms a correspondence with a woman during his time on death row, and they get married shortly before his execution. She and her family visit him before his death, and she refuses to let go of him.
Doris was the receptionist at EJI during the late 1980’s. She is mentioned for her help in the case of Herbert Richardson.
Armelia is the sister of Walter McMillian. She and Walter are close, and she fights alongside the rest of Walter’s family to seek his release.
Jackie is the daughter of Walter and Minnie McMillian. Her parents, who work to support her through college, are deeply proud of her accomplishments.
W.E.B. Du Bois
Du Bois was a famous African-American writer and activist who portrayed the realities of black communities from the post-Reconstruction period through the early Civil Rights era.
John is the protagonist in the W.E.B. Du Bois short story “Of The Coming of John.”
Crook is an eccentric, outspoken member of the local white community. He is a self-proclaimed son of Confederates who offers his support for EJI’s efforts to exonerate Walter.
Darnell was a co-worker of Bill Hooks. He contacts Stevenson with information that disproves Hook’s testimony against Walter. Shortly after, the new District Attorney Tom Chapman retaliates against Darnell by charging him with perjury.
Charlie’s grandmother contacts EJI, begging them to help her fourteen-year-old grandson, Charlie.
Charlie’s mother is abused by her boyfriend, George. She is very close to her son, who is, in turn, very protective of her. George almost beats Charlie’s mother to death on the night that Charlie kills him.
George is the abusive boyfriend of Charlie’s mother. He is a police officer who frequently abuses alcohol. Charlie kills him.
Mr. and Mrs. Jennings
The Jenningses are a rural white couple who lost their only grandchild to suicide. They reach out to Charlie after hearing his story from Stevenson. They befriend Charlie and his family and offer to give Charlie the money they had saved for their late grandson’s college education.
Chief Judge John Patterson
Patterson is the former KKK-backed governor of Alabama, famous for actively opposing the Civil Rights Movement and resisting de-segregation. He serves as Chief Judge of the Appellate Court at the time when Stevenson files a direct appeal on Walter’s behalf.
Michael is Stevenson’s first co-counselor in Walter’s case. The son of Irish immigrants, he has a rough background and is a recovering heroin addict. Stevenson sees Michael’s background as an asset in their work. Michael is humble and shares Stevenson’s passion for justice.
Mozelle and Onzelle
Vickie Pittman’s twin aunts, Mozelle and Onzelle are described as outspoken, straightforward rural white women. They were very close to their niece and angered by her murder. They are very hospitable toward Stevenson.
The father of Vickie Pittman, Vic is suspected of involvement in his daughter’s murder.
Ms. Baigre is the woman injured by Ian Manuel’s crime. While robbing her at gunpoint, Ian pulled a gun and shot Ms. Baigre, damaging her jaw. She later accepted his apology and became his friend and advocate.
Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska
Valeska is known for being tough on crime and harsh on supposed criminals. District Attorney Tom Chapman brings Valeska in to help defend the State’s position during Walter’s Rule 32 hearing.
Judge Thomas B. Norton Jr.
Judge Norton presides over Walter’s Rule 32 hearing.
Lewis is an African American former police officer who comes to work as EJI’s paralegal around the time of Walter’s Rule 32 hearing.
Clay Kast is Walter’s white mechanic. He becomes crucial in Walter’s case when he comes forward with records and statements that contradict the testimonies of Bill Hooks and Joe Hightower.
Jenkins is an intellectually disabled man who is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. As a child, Jenkins was severely physically abused while moving between several foster homes. EJI wins relief for Jenkins, who is transferred to a mental health facility.
Seger is the man who poses as a psychiatrist in the trial of Avery Jenkins. For years, he works as a state psychiatrist, giving illegitimate testimonies regarding the mental condition of defendants like Avery Jenkins.
Bernard is an attorney who replaces Michael at EJI. He had originally planned for a “traditional legal career,” but he became passionate about prison justice after interning with EJI one summer.
Tom Taylor and Greg Cole
Taylor and Cole are the new ABI investigators assigned by Chapman to reinvestigate Walter’s case. Unlike their predecessors, they aren’t affiliated with local law enforcement or state officials in Monroe County. They ultimately assert Walter’s innocence and present their findings to the State.
Judge Pamela Baschab
Baschab is the judge who presides over the final hearing in Walter’s case, in which EJI motions to have all of the charges against Walter dropped. She cheerfully grants EJI’s motion and orders that Walter be released.
Yates is the Texas woman who famously drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001 while suffering from postpartum psychosis.
Smith is the South Carolina woman convicted of murdering her two young children in 1995 in a case that drew national media attention. Stevenson explains how her case led to media sensationalism around “killer moms.”
Diane Jones was a client of EJI who served at Tutwiler Women’s prison and who often advocated for EJI to assist other women there, such as Marsha Colbey.
Charlotte is a senior attorney at EJI who represented Marsha Colbey.
Kristen was a staff attorney at EJI who helped Charlotte Morrison to represent Marsha Colbey.
Roberta Flack is an American jazz/soul/folk singer who began her career in the late 1960’s. She sings at an EJI annual benefit dinner where EJI recognizes Marsha Colbey.
McDuff is a friend of Stevenson’s and the white litigator who helps EJI seek financial compensation from the State for Walter. He characterized by his “Southern charm.”
Stevenson’s mother is described as a lifelong church musician. She dies just before Stevenson travels to Sweden to receive the Olof Palme International Human Rights Award.
Ashley is a young woman serving a juvenile life sentence for murdering her abusive relatives. She reaches out to EJI to express her support and curiosity about their work. EJI later takes on her case in an effort to help juveniles sentenced to life for homicide.
Evan is another juvenile convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was involved in the killing of a middle-aged neighbor who had given drugs to him and his teenaged friends. Stevenson describes Evan as contemplative, remorseful, and capable of change.
At the age of eighty-six, Stevenson’s grandfather was murdered by two teenaged boys who had come to rob him.
Graham is another young man who was sentenced to life in a Florida prison for violating the terms of his probation by attempting a robbery. EJI represents Graham along with Joe Sullivan before the Supreme Court.
Alan Simpson is a former Senator from Wyoming. A former juvenile felon himself, Simpson was among the many politicians who supported EJI in fighting against life sentences for non-homicide juvenile offenders.
Maria is the Senior Social Worker at EJI who helps to arrange for Walter’s care after his diagnosis of advancing dementia.
Susskind is the Deputy Director of EJI.
Jimmy Callahan, Danny Bradley, Max Payne, Jack Trawick, and Willie McNair
These are the men executed in Alabama in 2009, despite efforts from EJI to block their executions.
Jimmy Dill is an intellectually disabled man convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Despite their efforts, EJI is unable to seek clemency for Dill. Stevenson’s frustration and sadness over Dill’s death leads to a crisis of faith for Stevenson that forms the climax of the book.
The little boy at church
As a child, Stevenson teased a little boy for his stutter, and Stevenson’s mother made him apologize and hug the little boy. The little boy’s kindness and forgiveness taught him about the power of undeserved mercy.
Stevenson meets Rosa Parks, the famous civil rights activist, toward the beginning of his career in Montgomery. She and her friends, Ms. Carr and Ms. Durr, encourage Stevenson to persist in his efforts.
Johnnie Carr and Virginia Durr
Ms. Carr and Ms. Durr are friends of Rosa Parks and veteran civil rights activists. They befriend Stevenson and offer him wisdom and support in his activism.
Kuntrell is another juvenile offender sentenced to life in prison for homicide. EJI includes him with Evan Miller in their Supreme Court case against life sentences for juvenile homicide cases.
Joshua Carter and Robert Caston
Mr. Caston and Mr. Carter were both juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes and sentenced to life in prison at Angola prison in Louisiana. As forced laborers, they both became disabled. They become the first people released from prison after EJI’s Supreme Court victory over juvenile sentences for non-homicide cases.
The Old Woman (the “Stonecatcher”)
The stonecatcher is a mysterious, charming older woman whom Stevenson meets outside the courtroom during the Carter and Caston hearings. She tells Stevenson that, like him, she is a “stonecatcher” who holds others’ sadness and fights against injustice. She tells Stevenson he will sing sad songs, like her.
A white police officer who testifies during Walter's trial that he was instructed to lie so as to bolster the prosecutions case.