|Полное имя||Walter (Johnny D) McMillian|
Walter (Johnny D) McMillian – African-American worker and entrepreneur wrongly convicted of murdering a white girl and sentenced to death in the electric chair. The real story of Walter has been made known to the general public through media coverage, a high-profile appeal by Brian Stevenson, and the 2019 film Just Mercy.
Brief biography of Johnny D
Walter was born October 27, 1941, and lived in a black community near Monroeville, Alabama. At first he worked in the cotton industry, but after working injuries he decided to start a small business of his own. He bought logging and papermaking equipment, becoming a mediocre businessman.
As for Walter’s personal life, he was married to Minnie McMillian, they had nine children in their family. The man was known in society for two key reasons: his son married a white woman, and Walter himself had adultery with Karen Kelly, also white. For this kind of adultery, blacks had previously been lynched, so McMillian was uncommonly anxious. In addition, the public scandal had a negative impact on the woman, she began to use drugs and rolled downhill. But the real problem came from the other side.
Murder of Rhonda Morrison and arrest of McMillian by the sheriff
On the morning of November 1, 1986, a young student, Rhonda Morrison, from a respected white family in the area, was found dead in a dry cleaner’s with three gunshot wounds to her back. The police developed several versions, the law enforcers suspected a couple of Hispanics and a dry-cleaner’s owner, but after a couple of weeks they were left with no options. Tom Tate was elected sheriff a few days after the incident, and the public began to question his competence and the professionalism of law enforcement. Action had to be taken.
Walter’s mistress Karen began an affair with Ralph Myers, a white man with a badly disfigured face. The couple began to sell drugs, Kelly’s track record was replenished with serious crimes. The couple were involved in another murder (Vicki Pittman) and the police quickly proved that Myers was involved in it. Ralph began to slander others to save his ass, but the attempts were in vain. Then he decided to switch to the case of Ronda Morrison, since it was precisely this that worried the investigators the most. He slandered McMillian and soon the newly elected Sheriff Tate detained a black man.
McMillian had had minor legal troubles before, but had no previous convictions. There was no reliable evidence against him, except for adultery with a white woman.
Trial and verdict
Ralph Myers said he and McMillian went to the dry cleaners the day of the murder. Bill Hooks testified that on the morning of the murder, he saw McMillian’s truck outside the dry cleaners. As a result, the man was convicted of first-degree murder during the robbery. McMillian tried to explain his innocence, saying that he did not know Ralph Myers at all. The judge said it didn’t matter as the guilt had already been established. At first he was given a life sentence. The jury consisted of 11 whites and one African American. That happened in August 1988, and in September Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr., using Alabama’s controversial “redefinition” doctrine, imposed the death penalty.
You may be interested in: the true story of security guard Richard Jewell.
Fight for liberation
In November 1998, twenty-eight-year-old lawyer Brian Stevenson set out to appeal McMillian’s cases and soon realized that he was innocent.
The young lawyer drew attention to the following errors during the proceedings:
- lack of fingerprints;
- failure to conduct control ballistic tests;
- there was no physical evidence linking any person to the commission of the crime;
- ignoring McMillian’s alibi (he was in his village and repaired a car).
Between 1990 and 1993, four appeals were rejected. When Ralph Bernard Myers confessed to a lawyer that he was false, Equal Justice Initiative lawyers filed a motion for a new trial. The judges agreed with the arguments of the lawyers. On February 23, 1993, the conviction was overturned on appeal, and all charges were soon dropped by Judge Pamela W. Bashab. McMillian was released six years after his arrest. He was not the first innocent person wrongly sentenced to death, but he certainly became almost the most famous.
Walter later said:
«I never received an apology. I see them – the cops – all the time. I see them on the street, at the fruit stand, they say, “Hi, Johnny, how are you?” They say hello just like everyone else, as if nothing had happened.»
McMillian also filed civil lawsuits against officials involved in his wrongful conviction. They were settled privately for an undisclosed amount.
Life after release and death
Brian Stevenson and Macmillan maintained friendly relations until his untimely death on September 11, 2013. The cause of death was dementia, it is believed that its development was provoked by severe psychological trauma associated with being on death row.
Rhonda’s murder remains unsolved to this day…
Walter McMillian and «Just Mercy»
In 2019, the film “Just Mercy” was released, filmed by Destin Cretton based on Stevenson’s book “A call at your expense …”. He received positive reviews from critics and viewers, many who could not hold back tears while watching.
How realistic is the movie? Read our analysis to find out more.