Justice and Equality. Words that we hear out of every justice system in the world. Innocent until proven guilty is the motto of the US justice system, but not in the case of Walter McMillian. He was guilty the minute people laid eyes on him not because of what he did but simply because of the colour of his skin. An innocent man was convicted as a murderer without trial, without even a shred of evidence. Most of you will be thinking how could they do such a despicable thing, and this is the question that will be addressed in this article about the corruption and injustice once present within the US legal system.
In 1988, 18 year old Ronda Morrison was murdered in downtown Monroeville, Alabama. Police carried out an investigation to find a murderer, but simply couldn’t and looked towards the naive Walter McMillan. He had no priors but he caught everyone’s eye as he was in an interracial affair with a white woman in Monroeville, and had a very public divorce . The colour of his skin, in a predominantly racist white community, made him an easy scapegoat for the murder of Ronda Morrison. One of the disgusting aspects of the case was that they believed because he was an African-American, thid meant that he was able to carry out such a despicable crime. This led to an unfolding of events that displays the true flaws that were within the US legal system.
Sherriff Tate was the man in charge who brought him in and had already put him in death row for 15 months, despite not being convicted of a crime, before a trial had even occurred . When the trial was carried out, the facts were horribly twisted into making an innocent man guilty. Walter was with his family 11 miles away. This meant that were many people without any priors that could testify that he wasn’t at the scene of the murder. However, the only factor that stopped them from testifying was that they were all black. The most horrifying facts are yet to come.
The person who made the testimony that put Walter on death row was Ralph Myers. This man had been accused of many crimes and the sheriff department threatened that they were going to put him on death row if he didn’t testify to the fact that Walter killed Ms Morrison. His testimony was riddled with uncertainty. He stated that Walter forced him to drive him to the location of the murder. Ralph Myers was then, supposedly, left on his own in car, and instead of escaping from the clutches of his ‘captive’, he went up the street to get a pack of cigarettes and then returned! He stated that he entered the location and saw Walter with a gun in his hand, standing over a lifeless Ms Morrison. This was enough to convince the all-white jury that he was guilty, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
In Alabama, elected trial judges have the power to overturn the decision. In this case, Judge Robert E.Lee gave the verdict that Walter McMillan was to die by electrocution. He returned to his cell and spent six more years there. However, there was change for the better in the story of Walter McMillan. Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard lawyer, took on the case in post-conviction, where he showed that the State’s witnesses had lied on the stand and that the prosecution had illegally suppressed exculpatory evidence. He showed that there were tapes of the State’s main witness stating he will not lie on the stand but was forced to do so. The conviction was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1993 and prosecutors agreed that the case had been mishandled. Mr McMillian was released in 1993 after spending six years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
This case opens our eyes at the atrocity committed by the Sherrif’s department of Monroeville. They simply couldn’t solve the case and so pinned it all on an innocent black man. This conviction was accepted despite the lack of evidence and all because of the colour of his skin. He spent six years on death row, away from his family and nothing can be done to give him back that time. A study actually shows that out of every 25 people that are on death row, 1 is innocent. The flaws of that era’s US legal system have been clearly exhibited in the case of Walter McMillan, and very little attention was paid to the clarity of the evidence, thus stealing from him many valuable years, due to corruption and the rampant racism that was so widespread. The 21st century is a time for change, a time for fair justice and a time for mercy.
- Walter McMillan- National Registry of Exonerations
- Walter McMillan-Equal Justice Initiative
- Walter McMillan- From Death Row to “Just Mercy”