Just Mercy shares shocking similarities to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in that both are based in the town of Monroeville, Alabama and show a black man wrongfully convicted of a violent crime by an angry white community. However, the Mockingbird Trial took place in the 1930s and Walter McMillian’s case happened in the 1980s. The original trial shocked the Monroeville community after Atticus was able to prove Tom Robinson’s innocence and he was still convicted as guilty and sent to jail. While in jail awaiting execution for his wrongful conviction the guards shot him 17 times in the back stating he attempted to escape.

Nearly 50 years later an almost identical case transpires where Walter McMillian is wrongfully convicted of murder and is waiting on death row for his date. What has changed in those 50 years follows in the wake of To Kill a Mockingbird, there are people who testify against previous false testimonies, there is a DA who eventually agrees all charges need to be dropped, and there is a new generation who sees men like Walter as a person. Progress is slow and takes generations to grow into full blow change, but Walters story shows that very change taking place. The community of Monroeville remember how horrid it was that a man was wrongfully convicted and want things right. There is a young guard in the prison who sees Walter as a human and lets him have pictures of his family when he is in solitary confinement. There’s a young new District Attorney who struggles to protect himself from the “old guard” police force and serve justice to a man he knows was wrongfully convicted of murder. There’s a community of family and friends who 50 years ago would have been lynched if they testified coming out still in fear to testify against this unjust case. All of these are the ripples of change that the original Mockingbird case set forth for this small town and for the nation as a whole.

There is a new generation of lawyers, guards, family, and friends who grew up on the equality and justice Atticus Finch tried to grant to Tom Robinson, and not the hate and prejudice that leads to his death. These few are the ones who worked their way into the corrupt Monroeville justice system and are helping make sure it doesn’t repeat itself again and again. These points play off my earlier post about how the coming of age story is imparted onto us as we read To Kill a Mockingbird early on in middle and high-school. The work this book did, the seed it planted, is growing and has grown with everyone who knows of it. Much like Scout, the people in this movie are new to a case like this but not completely foreign to it – and they know from one very smart girl and her brave father just how to handle it.

Justice Served Vs Justice Due

While watching Just Mercy, I found issue with the continuous defense of historical justice in contrast to the justice that was actually due. This movie takes place in the same town of Monroeville, Alabama that the town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird is based on. In this true story by Bryan Stevenson, this same town that had the unlawful case against Tom Robinson had, not 50 years later, an almost identical case made against Walter McMillian. The issue of justice served and justice due comes when the District Attorney in this movie, Tommy Chapman, states that he knows that Walter is guilty because he was convicted by a jury. The defense of this “justice” is what sets both Tom and Walter into the same boat. They are both going to be convicted just because the jury believes they did it. There is no need for evidence, proof, or legit testimony. All that is needed is a jury that believes they have the right man.

Justice due is what should have happened. It is a battle in a courtroom where things are fair– where the convicted are not “guilty from the moment you born” as Walter McMillian puts it. Justice due would be a town learning from their racist past and not allowing it to repeat again. In this movie it can almost seem like the town feels like they have already found justice and dont need to go looking for more. They have already had their landmark case where the community was wrong and a man was wrongfully convicted, and rather than admit their relapse and reopen the case they defend the justice already served. Yet, there was  no such thing as justice when there had yet to have been a man released from death row in the state of Alabama, when one in nine death row cases have been proven innocent and released, and when the word of one white felon outweighed the voices of two dozen law-abiding black witnesses. Justice was not served by the first jury that convicted Walter and a retrial is the only way any justice can be given.

Human life is one of the most valuable things known to us. So why then is our justice system so ready to sentence someone to death rather than defend against a retrial? Even the slimmest chance that someone can be saved from wrongful execution is more valuable than any social, historical, or legal reasoning in opposition of a retrial.