At his home, Paul tells the guards that, after Delacroix’s execution, he gave Coffey his shoe and told him to tie it. Coffey soon found himself at a loss, saying he had forgotten how to do this. Paul then explains what this has to do with the Detterick twins. He explains that the Dettericks’ dog had been fed with sausages and that Deputy McGee found a wrapped lunch in Coffey’s pocket, from which it was later supposed Coffey had extracted the sausages to feed them to the dog. However, when McGee found Coffey’s lunch, it was still tied together. Yet, if Coffey doesn’t know how to tie a simple knot, it follows that he could not possibly have taken the sausages out of his sandwich and tied it back again.
Paradoxically, Coffey’s mental weakness proves crucial in proving his innocence. The lack of aggressiveness that Paul had so strongly sensed in the inmate combines with a more objectively identifiable lack of intelligence, proving that Coffey could not carry out an evil deed even if he were so inclined. Paul’s explanation is so simple and clear that it seems impossible to refute. It confirms that Paul was right in trusting his intuition, instead of listening to the seemingly objective voices describing the crime in the press and at Coffey’s trial.
Paul explains that no one thought of this at the trial. Paul remembers Hammersmith, who compared Negroes to mongrel dogs and referred to them as property. Paul notes that, at the time, the South was full of people like Hammersmith.
To his friends, Paul explains that the only reason he thought about it himself was because of what Coffey said after his episodes of healing. After healing Paul’s urinary infection as well as Mr. Jingles, Coffey asked if he had helped it. Similarly, after the twins’ murder, Coffey said: “I couldn’t help it. I tried to take it back, but it was too late.” While the search party saw this as a clear confession of Coffey’s crime, Paul now understands it as Coffey’s effort to say that he tried to heal the girls but failed in his effort.
Paul was able to understand Coffey only after already getting to know and admire the inmate. This suggests that, had Paul never come to see the man in a loving light, he might never have discovered the truth about his innocence. Uncovering the complex truth of reality therefore cannot take place without emotional involvement—in whose absence people’s judgments are often too harsh or, as in this case, erroneous.
Harry asks what Paul’s second clue was. Paul refers to the moment when the search party’s dogs became confused. While most wanted to go upstream, two coonhounds wanted to go downstream. It was only after those two dogs smelled Cora’s nightgown that they agreed to go downstream. In other words, the coonhounds were tracking the killer—who had gone upstream—while the rest of the dogs were tracking the victims, who were indeed downstream, with John Coffey.
Paul’s investigative conclusions demonstrate that he has spent a lot of time reflecting over each detail of the Detterick case, emotionally convinced of Coffey’s innocence before he could prove it with facts. It becomes apparent that intelligence is a crucial tool capable of impacting the world morally, serving good causes (in Paul’s case) or bad ones (in cases such as Wharton’s).
Paul assumes that Coffey was probably not far from the crime scene and, when he heard the commotion, went in search of its source. That is how he found the two girls’ bodies. When he failed to revive them, he broke down crying. The reasons for his decision to walk downstream remain mysterious. He could have panicked or feared that the killer still wasn’t very far and could attack him as well.
Despite the danger that Coffey faced, he did not flee and abandon the girls in the woods but, instead, gave into his desire to heal. This depicts Coffey as a selfless savior, willing to put his own life at risk to help other human beings, and proves that compassionate instincts can be just as powerful as cruel ones in influencing people’s actions.
The men ask Paul who he thinks the killer might be. Paul says that it is probably someone white. Any man, Brutal realizes, could have been strong enough to break the dog’s neck by taking it by surprise. While Brutal feels terrible at the idea of killing an innocent man, he cannot think of a way to convince people of Coffey’s innocence, as that would involve talking about Coffey’s healing powers. Paul says that the more pressing issue is healing Melinda Moores.
Paul’s feeling that the murderer is probably white remains unexplained, but seems to imply that a black man would be more fearful of attacking white girls, since he would know that the resulting consequences would be disproportionately harsh for a black person, in light of the interracial nature of the crime.
The three men confirm that they will all participate in Paul’s plan. Paul then announces that Dean is the one who will stay on the block. Brutal supports this decision, reminding Dean that he, unlike the rest of them, has two young children to take care of and cannot afford to lose his job. Moved by the thought of his children, Dean agrees and asks if he can be the one to go pick up what they need at the infirmary. The men agree and decide that they will indeed do it tonight. When Janice walks back in, offering the men more iced tea, Brutal says he would rather have some whiskey. Janice then asks Paul what he has done but suddenly cuts him short before he can answer, saying she would actually prefer not to know.
While the men are willing to sacrifice their own lives to save Melinda Moores, they remain committed to minimizing the potential harm they can cause, sparing Dean from as much danger as they can in the name of his children. Their commitment to justice thus does not involve sacrificing their compassion, as most forms of punishment do (such as the electric chair). Janice’s desire to ignore what is going on reveals her fear as much as her limitless faith in her husband.