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Bryan Stevenson grew up poor in Delaware. His great-grandparents had been slaves in Virginia and this legacy of slavery influenced the way his grandparents raised their children and grandchildren. They particularly emphasized the importance of faith and education. Stevenson’s faith was cultivated in the African Methodist Episcopal Church where he played the piano and sang in the choir. Stevenson attended Eastern College, a Christian institution outside Philadelphia, and then Harvard Law School. His focus to defend the poor began during college when he took an intensive class on race and poverty litigation. He was required to spend a month with an organization doing social justice work. They sent him to Georgia to work with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee where his first case required him to meet with a condemned man on death row. In the late 1980’s, Stevenson’s legal firm first took up the cause of Walter McMillian, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman. The state’s case had many inconsistencies. They manufactured stories from witnesses who said they were with Walter when he committed the crime and disregarded accounts from many eyewitnesses who said they were with Walter at a church fundraiser. The legal system was determined to find someone to convict for this murder and decided Walter would be prosecuted because of his affair with a prominent white woman (a crime during this time period). The exposition of this case opened my eyes to the unfortunate fact that since prosecutors and police have legal immunity they can do considerable harm to innocent citizens when they are on the hunt for justice.


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