Erica Kelley is the host of the Southern Fried True Crime podcast. She joins us today to separate fact from the fiction in the 2019 movie Just Mercy.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:02:19] Let’s start by setting up the case according to the movie. It’s 1987 and Monroe County, Alabama, and this is where we first see Jamie Foxx’s character, Walter McMillan, as he’s cutting down a tree that evening, Walter is driving his truck down lonely road. When he’s forced to stop at a police roadblock, Walter stops his truck, turns off the radio, and spreads his hand on the steering wheel as an officer approaches his window and after a brief exchange.
Well, the officer’s tells him it’s not necessary to see his license. He doesn’t even need to know what his ideas there. He calls him Johnny D through the windshield. We can start to see other cops with guns pointed now, and you can start to see and get the sense that they already know who he is and they’re already going to take him in.
They’re expecting them to make a break for it or try to run. Walter doesn’t try to run. He calmly says, you have me confused with someone else. The officer doesn’t less any, pulls Walter out of the truck and shoves him against the hood as he slaps cuffs on him. Now it’s only after this that we find out what they’re arresting him for.
And through a TV news reporter, we find out that last year on the 1st of November, so that would be 1986 18 year old Ronda Morrison was found dead at Jackson cleaners and Monroeville, Alabama. We see a photo of a pretty white girl flash on the screen before the TV reporter explains. She had been strangled and shot by Walter McMillan, who the reporter says is locally known as Johnny D.
that would be why the officer used that name. The TV reporter goes on to say that Walter was convicted by a jury who recommended a life sentence, but judge Robert E. Lee Kee overrode that and sentences Walter to death. So all of that is how the movie introduces us to the crime and how Walter McMillan ends up on death row.
And I’m sure we’ll get into a lot more details of the case as we go on. But overall, how well did the movie do setting things up?
Erica Kelley: [00:04:15] Well, this is going to happen a lot within the movie, how they just kind of simplify things or dramatize it a bit more, but they actually came to his house to arrest him after, you know, a guy we’ll talk about later.
Turned him in. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as it looked like right there. And he did not resist as was portrayed. But one thing that they left off that is really interesting is that they didn’t actually have him on a murder charge yet. And so they had gotten the snitch to say that basically Johnny D has sexually assaulted him.
And in Alabama at the time, they still had sodomy laws on the books, and so they arrested him for sodomy. And Johnny D didn’t even know what it meant. So when he asked and they told him, he started laughing and, sheriff Tate was there and it angered him very badly. And he let out a torrent of racial slurs and even hinted about lynching.
So while it looks really dramatic in the movie, I think it’s even worse in real life.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:13] Yeah. So it wasn’t anything to do with Rhonda at that point then?
Erica Kelley: [00:05:16] Well, it was, but they just couldn’t prove it. And they knew they couldn’t prove it. Well, they never really could prove it. We’ll get to that, obviously. But, They needed something to arrest him and to scare him and to get him in there. And I mean, you know, we all know about coerced confessions, and they might’ve thought it was pretty simple, but no. Yeah, I think it was much worse in real life.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:35] Wow. Yeah. It sounds like the movie does simplify it then quite a bit.
Erica Kelley: [00:05:38] Yes, very much
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:39] after the introduction to the case, and to. That side. Then we kind of shift over and then we’re introduced to Michael B Jordan’s version of Brian Stevenson, and according to the movie, he went to law school at Harvard. We see him with his family in Delaware before moving to Alabama, something that doesn’t really seem to make his mom too happy.
I think his sister says something like, rejecting all the job offers so you can be poor in Alabama, which implies that he was offered plenty more, but he was pursuing his passion. Now, as soon as Brian gets to Alabama, we meet Brie Larson’s version of Ava Ansley and we find out that they’re supposed to be working together to provide legal services to people on death row through a service they call equal justice initiative.
And it seems to be as much of a passion project for Eva as it, much as it is for Brian. While Brian is having dinner with Eva and her husband, Doug and their son, Brian mentioned something about how he’s not even able to pay her anything yet. So she’s not in the money or in it for the money either, I should say.
Can you give us a little bit of context around Brian Stevenson and Ava Ansley and who they were before they got involved in Watcher’s case?
Erica Kelley: [00:06:53] Yes, sure. The way they portray Brian Stevenson. Graduated from college and making that decision is, is fairly accurate. I mean, his family was extraordinarily proud of him, of course, and they believed in what he was doing too, but at the same time, they were scared for him.
And you know, as a black man going to defend people on death row in Alabama, you can understand why, but they never really tried to deter him. In my mind anyway, from what I remember from the book. And as far as Eva Ansley, she’s kind of an amalgam of a few different people. One specifically is a white lawyer he worked with named Mike O’Connor.
That was a little bit more instrumental in getting evidence in Walter McMillan’s case. But she was the manager of the equal justice initiative, but originally when they started, it was called the Southern prisoners defense committee, and they had opened up like a satellite office in Tuscaloosa. They had some problems there.
And, I think it was a further drive to where they were going to death row. So they moved to Montgomery. My feeling on this is that, first of all, it’s really hard to put a whole bunch of characters in the same movie and really get your point across. But second of all, the chemistry between Brian and a white man lawyer might not have been as great as it was with Eva.
And she was a rural person and she definitely was the manager and she was actually the money person. So while yeah, they started out with no salaries. Her role in it was to find grants and get federal money, and she was really, really good at this. Do you see what I’m trying to say? She’s the amalgam of several different characters and she was very much a part of what they were doing, but she was not as involved with Walter’s case per se.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:31] Okay. That makes sense. And that actually answers another question that I had about you. Seems to be. Not doing it for the money. She’s not doing it for the money, but you still gotta pay the bills. So
Erica Kelley: [00:08:42] yeah, exactly. It has to happen somehow. And there’s always gotta be somebody that’s good at that part of that, and she really was.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:48] Okay, that’s good. That fills in another blank there that I had about the movie. Now, during Brian’s first visit to WC home and correctional facility, we see that on a sign there, he tells the guard that he’s scheduled to visit with six clients. God doesn’t know who he is, doesn’t recognize him and forces Brian to do a strip search.
That’s even though Brian makes it clear to the guard that lawyers aren’t supposed to be structures for legal purposes, for legal visits with clients. Makes perfect sense. But the guard guard forces him to anyway, and there’s even, I noticed in the backgrounds, in a movie, there’s a security camera in the room, so who knows.
If people are watching that or what sort of extra privacy is lost there? I thought Michael B. Jordan did a great job acting there. In this scene, you can tell he’s both defiant against the guards as he being told to strip and, but then after the guard leaves, you can tell that the experiences, one that traumatized him and just just from the emotions that you can see on his face.
I thought he did a great job there, but did that really happen?
Erica Kelley: [00:09:51] Yes. Yes, it absolutely did. And he was horrified, if I remember correctly, he said in the book that he cried, which I mean, that’s completely understandable. I don’t remember about a security camera. I tried to go back through my notes and I couldn’t find it, but also the incident was much more racially charged.
You know, the guard kinda sized him up as a young black man, and that’s kind of like, I’ve never seen you before. And he just felt. He had that feeling that this is not something a white lawyer coming in to meet with. His client would go through and he’s right. You know, it was against the law, but he submitted and I think that’s why he was so traumatized cause he was like, well, I’ll have to get in here to see my client.
So I guess I have to go through this horribly humiliating experience to do so. And he did, but he was traumatized.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:37] Wow. Yeah, and I would assume then that he was not with the other guy that wasn’t in the movie at all. That was part of the amalgamation for, for Ava at that point. So he would probably would just open alone.
Erica Kelley: [00:10:48] Yes. He was alone and he often went alone. Like I said, this movie is, Oh, I don’t know if I’ve said this shit. This movie is mainly based on Bryan Stevenson’s book. There is another book and we can talk about that a little bit later. I have more notes on that. That goes further into the investigation and to where the, the white lawyer played into it, but for the most part, Brian was on a weekly basis seeing people in death row.
So it was kind of when this was kind of unusual. He just hadn’t met with Walter this time, I guess. And he got the wrong guard on the wrong day.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:11:18] Yeah. Well, it certainly sounds like, and I can definitely see how that would be a traumatizing experience and also illegal on top of it. And he’s a lawyer, so,
Erica Kelley: [00:11:26] yeah, very illegal.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:11:28] The movie never tells us how Brian chose the six clients that he met that day. But we do see that Walter is one of them. That’s how they first meet and how the movie introduces the two of them, meaning we get the sense, or at least I got the sense watching the movie that Walter is essentially given up.
Apparently he had a lawyer before, said everything would be okay. But then Malta was given the death sentence, and then when money ran out, the lawyer left and they’ve applied for retrial that was denied, and Walter makes the point that there’s been zero cases of anyone being freed from Alabama’s death row, even though Walter doesn’t believe Brian can do anything for him at this point.
That’s really when Brian starts digging into Walter’s case. Do we really know how Brian ended up working on Walter’s case? Was it something random or was there something about it that made Brian pick Walter as one of the six that we saw or one of the people that he saw that day. Well,
Erica Kelley: [00:12:26] I’ll tell you a little bit about his process.
The way he chose clients in the order that he did was he basically went by who was supposed to be executed next. You know, he, he tried to go for cases that were the most urgent. And in Walter’s case, I think he happened to just meet him when he was there to meet other people. And it was just struck by.
His attitude. He was a very nice, polite man, and he sat down to talk to him. I think while he was waiting with somebody else, if I remember correctly, but he 100% believed him from the moment he talked to him. He was really moved by it and decided to dig a little further and got his trial transcript and was just horrified at the lack of evidence.
But yeah, that’s Brian’s whole process was to. And I mean, you know, there were so many people begging for his help. This man probably worked seven days a week. It’s, it’s incredible what he did because so many people needed his help and it was all urgent. In Walter’s case, he was about to run out on his time for appeal.
And after that it was for one certain pleading. I’m not sure. Again, I’m not a lawyer. I researched them. But he was running out of a time and a time for the next appeal in the process. And if he didn’t do it, it could have been shut down. And so that’s why he decided to jump on it immediately.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:13:42] So there was some urgency to it, even if it wasn’t his date coming up for being executed.
But there was still urgency to it there.
Erica Kelley: [00:13:49] And if you think about it as smart, getting in on it that early, he might’ve been able to stop it before Walter got so close.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:13:55] Yeah, definitely. Yeah, for sure.
Erica Kelley: [00:13:58] And I tend to call him Walter instead of Johnny D cause I found it confusing in the book. His son’s name was actually also Johnny D, so I called him Walter in my episode and I’ll keep doing that, but not mean to through this.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:11] No. Yeah, you’re fine. I tried to call him Walter, but just because I had said that Johnny D was a nickname, and there’s a few times where I’ll, I’ll probably mention it because they, that’s the way they refer to it in a movie. But. Yeah. Walter and Johnny D, same person as far as the movie is concerned.
Erica Kelley: [00:14:25] Yup, exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:27] You alluded to this earlier, but there is a scene in the movie where Brian is. Going through all the notes and he explains to Ava why he thinks Walter is innocent. Brian tells her the States in tiredly based the case on the statement of one witness, a man named Ralph Myers Myers himself got 30 years for a different murder.
He was on trial for that murder when he gave his testimony against Walter. His statement said, Johnny D or a Walter approached him at a car wash and at gunpoint force Meyers to drive him to Jackson cleaners. The reason he said Johnny D forced Myers to drive was because Johnny D’s arm hurt. Then they get to Jackson cleaners.
Johnny D tells Myers to wait outside in the trap while he goes inside. And he does. This is something that I think was, again, Michael B. Jordan’s acting did a great job of really emphasizing this, that he does. He apparently, according to this testimony, kidnapped, waited for the kidnapper and the truck. He doesn’t try to run or go to the police, but he, then he goes, he drives to a liquor store to get some cigarettes and then drives back to where, you know, apparently this guy had kidnapped him for Johnny D and that’s when you heard the gunshots inside.
I mean right away. I’m not a lawyer either, but there’s something strange here going on. He continues on. Brian is explaining this and the Myers goes inside and that’s when he sees Rhonda Morrison’s body lying on the ground face up. Johnny D is holding a gun over her and some other white guy who he claimed was quote unquote in charge, how it’s described in the movie, but no one ever tried to look for that other person.
The only other witness that they had was a young black man named bill hooks. Who said that he saw Johnny D’s truck leaving and cleaners around the time of the murder, and that’s how the movie explains the testimony that the state used to sentence Walter McMillan to death for the murder of Ronda Morrison.
After hearing this in the movie, Ava outlines the case. Basically an 18 year old white girl is murdered in broad daylight for almost a year. The sheriff can’t solve it until some guy who is charged with a different murder says he can tell him who murdered Ronda in exchange for a shorter sentence. And the guy who who he says did it happens to be a poor black man who no one else will think twice about.
And again, I’m not a lawyer here, but none of this really seems very convincing, especially at, I mean, that part where. He drives him to the cleaners and then just go somewhere else to pick up, you know, run an errand and then come back. Like if you got kidnapped. Yeah. Really. okay. Well that’s that. That’s the way the movie explains it.
But how, how well did the movie do showing that testimony and all that, they had to charge Walter with Rondo’s
Erica Kelley: [00:17:03] murder. That’s exactly what they used. And of course the story is preposterous. It’s preposterous on so many levels. And one thing I forgot, and the first question we talked about how they opened the movie.
Showing what Walter or Johnny D did for a living. You see him chopping down trees. He actually was a relatively successful businessmen. He had a, a lumber business and he actually worked very well with the white community in Monroeville. So he was actually more respected than most black people, black people there would have been.
so in a way, yeah. Okay. A poor black man, you know, you can pin it on him. Sure. I do think that’s how the police felt about it, and that’s fair. But I don’t, I don’t think the movie does a very good job of showing how successful Walter was. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. But it’s absolutely true that Ralph’s testimony was completely preposterous, and bill hooks, as you’ll find out, was a well known criminal informant who often lied for many things.
At one point, there was about a $16,000 reward for information and Rhonda murder. And there’s no indication that bill hooks ever was able to collect this. However, he was able to get one of his own fines refunded for his testimony. So in a way he was bribed. It wasn’t $16,000 but $1,000 to a criminal informant is a lot of money.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:18:22] What about what they were talking about? I think it was Ava that was a kind of outlining it. There were mentioned that. Myers was charged with something else, and then he got a shorter sentence in exchange for this. So again, it’s similar concept of not necessarily, you know, a huge cash transaction, but you’re getting something in exchange.
Erica Kelley: [00:18:40] Well, and I can kind of explain that to you. It’s interesting because the murder that Ralph was implicated in was for a poor white woman. His case did not get as much attention as Rhonda is. But it was solved fairly quickly because it involved drugs and drug informants, and that’s how they got Ralph Myers fairly quickly.
In a roundabout way, it sounds really strange. Walter McMillan did cheat on his wife and he did it one time with a white woman. Well, this white woman, when Walter broke up with her, started seeing Ralph Myers and he got her addicted to many drugs and there were lots of problems. And basically when he was looking down a life sentence for this murder that he was implicated in, he started thinking about Rhonda Morrison’s murder and who could he possibly lay it on?
And he knew that his girlfriend had been involved with this black man. And you know, that was really the only stain on Walter’s reputation in the town. As I said, he had been a very respected businessman, but this was the 1980s and black men did not date white women in the deep South like that without putting a target on their backs.
So that played a lot into it. And Ralph was very, very shortsighted because he thought, sure, I’ll get an exchange. You know, a lesser sentence in this other woman’s murder. Not thinking that he would also be charged, and Rhonda is the way he was. But you know, you can get way into Ralph Myers. He had a lot of developmental issues and he had PTSD and he was very easily manipulated.
You can put it that way.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:20:08] Yeah. And I’m do know that they mentioned the affair at some point in the movie, but I don’t ever remember them connecting to Ralph Myers that way. So it’s very interesting that. That may have been the connection between them and why he was, why Walter was charged.
Erica Kelley: [00:20:24] Hm. It was, that’s how Ralph even knew about Walter, and of course, Ronda Morrison’s murder was.
Headline news. It was in every newspaper. It was all anybody heard about, and it went unsolved for quite awhile. So he knew that, you know, Hey, if I mention her name and throw up the sky, no. And of course, if you think about it, it’s his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. There might’ve even been a certain level of jealousy.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:20:47] Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. Wow. That’s a, that’s a fascinating connection that I. Never got from watching the movie.
Erica Kelley: [00:20:54] Yeah, it’s definitely left out, but that maybe it was two hour and 15 minutes, so you know, they did have to skip some stuff.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:00] Sure. And yeah, I mean, yeah, you have that for every movie. I’m very familiar with that.
Cutting a lot of stuff out, that’s for sure. Now flipping to the other side, we do see Brian go to visit Walter’s wife and kids in the movie, and some of the neighbors show up as well. It’s kind of funny when they show up, there’s a mass, you know, mass amount of people there. One of the ladies there explains that the day Rhonda was killed, they were having a fish fry to raise money for the church, Walter, and they call him Johnny DL.
Continue to do that when they do in the movie. But Walter, Johnny D against a person. It was working on his truck with his son that day with John and another guy in the room named Jimmy. They both confirmed that he was there working on the truck. They tell Brian that they had the truck on the rack by 6:00 AM they had the transmission cleaned out by nine 30 so.
How was he supposed? How’s Johnny D or Walter supposed to drive all the way to evergreen to kidnapped, Ralph Myers drive back to Jackson cleaners to kill Ronda Morrison at 10:15 AM and a truck that doesn’t have transmission. That’s a fair question. But then one of the men in the room says, a few months back before Ron does murder, Johnny D was caught running around, and that’s kind of where we had talked about that aspect of it.
They don’t really mention the Ralph Myers like I just said, but they do start talking about how some more story started flying about Johnny D. you know, once they figured out that he had cheated on his wife, you know, he’s a cheat. He’s a drug dealer, he’s head of Dixie mafia. There’s all these things that start coming around.
So by the time someone started calling him a murder, that is just another story that started flying around and no one never really thought twice about it. How well did the movie do? Showing this other side of the story in some of the things that were said there,
Erica Kelley: [00:22:46] this is another one that I kind of have a bit of a problem with.
Everybody that was at the house that day was a complete support of Walter or Johnny D, and if I remember correctly, his son wasn’t actually working with him on the truck, but the Jimmy guy was. But the point is. Yes. Walter had been caught running around with a white woman. There were rumors about that, where this other stuff comes in about him being a drug dealer, and the head of the Dixie mafia actually came from sheriff Tate straight to Brian Stevenson.
When he found out that he was taken up his case, he called and basically threatened him and was kind of. Trying to strong arm him to not take the cases. Basically, you know, son, don’t you understand this man’s a drug dealer and how dangerous it can be that, you know, the Dixie mafia is involved in, as far as I’ve ever known.
The Dixie mafia, which I actually just did a case on, is basically white rednecks. So I don’t understand how Walter McMillan would fit into that, but you know, so I guess that’s kind of part of our problem. We get a little bit more into sheriff Tate later cause I don’t think they portray him as such the racist.
That this man was, he was horrible. But that’s where that came from. And I guess they needed a way to explain those rumors or explain why Brian would’ve heard that without having a whole other scene with the sheriff. And it was a phone call too, so it wouldn’t be a very good dramatic scene unless they redid the whole thing.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:03] That makes sense. But I mean, it does. They do throw some of those things in there. And so it sounds like. Those were things that I’m sure if, if, if Tate told Brian, then he probably would have pulled other people and started to, maybe I’m just assuming there, but
Erica Kelley: [00:24:16] yes, and it’s definitely in Brian’s book.
Yeah. I read his book and I read portions of the other one, but it’s definitely in Brian’s book.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:22] Okay. One thing we mentioned earlier was bill hook, one of the witnesses and one of the two witness statements that they had, and he said that he saw Johnny D’s truck leaving the cleaners that morning. Well, Brian meets with a guy named Darnell Houston who says he knows bill hook mid the whole thing up because Darnell works with bill the same place, and they were working together cleaning that gasket of a Camaro, pretty specific there from 8:00 AM until lunch that day.
When Brian asks why bill would lie, the reply was that he cut a deal with the cops. And you kind of alluded to that earlier. They had locked him up for Burghley and the day that he gave his statements. All of a sudden he was set free, all charges dropped
Erica Kelley: [00:25:06] and he was refunded is fine. One more thing,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:25:09] and he was refunded is fine.
They didn’t mention that part in the movie. Yeah.
Erica Kelley: [00:25:12] Yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:25:13] But then using this, they use Darnell statement. Brian starts to say, well, we can use that to file a motion to reopen Walter’s case. And finally Walter gives the okay for a retrial with Darnell statement. How much of that happened.
Erica Kelley: [00:25:27] That whole thing is true and we can get more into a little bit what happened with Darnell.
I think your next question deals with that too. But yeah, that absolutely gave him some more hope that he knew everybody was lying, that that testified against him. There was only three or four people I think that actually tested testified against him at trial, and they were all people that were just making things up.
Bill hooks being the main one, saying, you know, that he saw his truck leaving the cleaners and with Darnell coming forward, the big implication about this is that Darnell had actually told. Walter’s first lawyers and his original case, and they made a motion about it to deny him as a witness, and the judge denied it.
So basically they knew that this man was a liar from the first
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:11] trial. Oh, wow. Oh, try to try to strike bill hook from being
Erica Kelley: [00:26:16] in the very first trial, they tried to have stricken as a witness, basically because he was a liar and they had Darnell’s testimony and the judge denied it. They said no, and they let him testify anyway.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:27] Okay. Okay. No, I thought you were saying try to strike Darnell and I was okay. Not okay.
Erica Kelley: [00:26:30] They ignored Darnell’s deposition completely, basically.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:34] Wow. Did Brian know about that? When. Darnell started to confirm that, or
Erica Kelley: [00:26:38] no, actually, Darnell contacted him when he found out he was working on Walter’s case. It had always bothered him.
You know, he never liked it. He had always, he liked Walter. He knew him in the community, and he knew that he had been set up and he knew that he had gone to the lawyers and the first trial and that it wasn’t allowed in. So, you know, the minute he found out there was a good lawyer working on the appeal, he went straight to him.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:27:01] Heading back to the movie, the movie shows. A lot of attempts to undermine the case that seem highly illegal. You’ve kind of touched briefly on on some of these, Darnell Houston is arrested for perjury because of his statement. When Brian talks to sheriff Tates and the da about that. Nah, they shrug it off.
It’s not a big deal. Especially they mentioned this since the court has denied the request for a retrial. At one point in the movie, Ava gets a call from someone claiming they put a bomb under her house. The cops come. Fortunately they don’t find anything, but it’s clear that they’re trying to get her to stop working with Walter or Johnny D and they’re using.
Some very racist language in the movie. I’m not going to repeat that here, but it is something that is a consistent theme throughout. Brian himself gets pulled over by two cops who put a gun to his head before letting him go all the wild. They’re not going to tell him why he got pulled over. But as yours, when I was watching that, I mean.
just the way that they do it. You get the idea, you know what they’re doing. They’re trying to intimidate him. They want him off the case. They have no reason to pull him over whatsoever, but they’re using their, their force this. Their badge essentially hiding behind their badge in order to try to get them to get off the case.
So the idea that I got here was Brian and Ava were fighting against a lot more than just the case. They had to fight both sides. They had to fight people inside the justice system and outside of it that were trying to stop them from being involved. In this case. How much of that is true,
Erica Kelley: [00:28:36] all of it. Well, in different ways.
As far as Darnell Houston, as soon as he gave a deposition to Brian, before Brian had even filed it as a motion for appeal, he was arrested and when he went furiously to sheriff Tate and the da, it was much more Machiavellian in real life. They basically. Threatened him. Anybody that tried to come forward and perjure themselves with giving false information about Ronda Morrison’s case would be held to the strictest whatever of the law.
They wouldn’t, you know, basically saying, we’ll arrest anybody that tries to give a statement contradicting our case. It was very, again, strong arming him and Brian was very passionate as it shows in the movie. And. Argued against it, and Chapman did just kind of go, yeah, okay, well we’ll drop the charges against star now, but you should know, we will prosecute anybody basically.
As far as like the bombings, it wasn’t even his house at that point. They did have a law office. Now, when Brian first got to Alabama, he did couch there for awhile and he was, he was working for a nonprofit, but eventually Eva did raise money and they, they found an old dilapidated house that they worked out of.
But the bomb threats became so numerous that they almost just laughed at him. Like they would actually get kind of ticked off that they had to stop what they were doing. Cause they were always so busy. It wasn’t just Walter’s case. They were juggling an enormous caseload. And so every time somebody would call in one of these threats, they would have to clear the building and all of them would get so angry because they knew it was just a threat.
And the pizza mom was trying to intimidate them. But it would really disrupt their work. So in that sense, that’s very true. But it didn’t happen the way it showed in the movie. I think they did it that way in the movie though. Again, for drama purposes, it’s much more scary when it’s your family home and there’s a child there.
And then the part about where Brian gets pulled over by the two cops, I have a theory about why they did this this way in the movie, and it’s because of the epidemic we have in this country with young black men being pulled over by cops for whatever reason, and don’t make up a reason or, you know, I won’t go too far into that.
But what actually happened was Brian had rented his own apartment. He finally got enough money together with a roommate. To rent an apartment in Atlanta, and I don’t know how all that worked. This man traveled back and forth everywhere. It’s crazy.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:30:56] That’s a pretty big commute.
Erica Kelley: [00:30:58] I know. But, he had gotten off of work and I can’t remember if there was even a song plan.
I can’t remember what it was, but he was just sitting in his truck, in his car trying to chill, trying to let the days ain’t straight roll off of him and listen to music. And he saw these cops patrolling the neighborhood and he was like, Ooh, I better get out of my car. So as soon as he does a cup, a cop walks up to him and is like, freeze points a gun at him.
And, you know, it does kind of go that way from there. Threatening him. They want to search his car or they search his person. It’s again, another really extremely humiliating and intimidating things do, but it really didn’t have anything to do with his work. All they saw was a black guy in the wrong neighborhood because he and his roommate had thrown together in a nicer neighborhood in Atlanta, so they saw a black guy, and.
Basically a white neighborhood and was like, Oh, no, no, this is not right. And then they claimed that they were patrolling because they were looking for our, a burglary suspect, which was pretty much BS. And Brian was very, very angry about it. And he, he remembers going in and. Just, you know, he couldn’t let it go and telling his roommate, you know, they didn’t even apologize.
They let me go, but they didn’t even apologize. And he took us so far as to file a complaint with the Atlanta police department, which of course was tossed. The policeman said that they were doing their jobs, that they had not acted in properly at all. So. But I mean, to Brian’s credit, he followed through.
He wasn’t gonna let it go. He did not like being pushed around. I love this guy, by the way. She can’t tell.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:26] Yeah, no, that’s, I mean, that’s great, but that’s interesting that it happened in Atlanta and not there in Alabama.
Erica Kelley: [00:32:32] Yeah. It was not about intimidating for Walter’s case. It was about a black man being in the wrong neighborhood, which racism is at the heart of this case.
Anyway, so it still, and I think that. The way they did it in that scene made it more pertinent to modern events, if that makes sense.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:47] Sure. And it does tie it to the case because otherwise you’re going to start to have to explain why he wasn’t in Atlanta and start to, you know, pull all this and, and again, you know, you have to compress it down.
It gets really complicated as far as the movie storyline is concerned.
Erica Kelley: [00:33:01] That makes it really complicated.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:33:04] Now, you talked about this briefly, but. There’s a moment in the movie where Brian gets a hold of a tape where Ralph Myers tells sheriff Tate he doesn’t know who killed Ronda Morrison, and this really starts to imply something about sheriff Tate.
Even beyond that, Meyers tells Tate something to the effect of, if you’re asking me to frame an innocent man for murder, that just ain’t something I’m willing to do. We find out later that statement was given on June 3rd then three months later. Myers becomes the state’s key witness in Walter’s murder case.
When Brian talks to Ralph Myers about it, he tells Brian the story of how he was burned as a child. He has a fear of being burned. Myers was put on death row for a time and they put him closest to the execution room, and after someone named Ritter was executed, they put in there essentially like its way.
They could smell the flesh burning and you know, horrible, horrible things. The very next day, Myers called Tate saying he’d say whatever he wanted. Meyers gave his statements and was moved from death row to County lockup, and that would very heavily imply that sheriff Tate was involved in all of this.
Did that happen
Erica Kelley: [00:34:16] 100%. It’s interesting. Brian actually accidentally found the real confession when they were handing everything over. They had to give him the tape of Ralph’s story about Walter. Just on a hunch, Brian turned it over in the cassette player and the other side of the tape was Ralph Meyer saying, I’m not going to lie.
You can’t make me do it. I’m not going to send an innocent man up for murder. It’s just not something I’m going to do. Basically what he said in the movie. And then he was thrown on death row and he was purposely put down the hall. And I mean, you know, the, the, the sheriff probably knew a little bit about his background.
He was a longtime criminal in Monroe County. And not to mention his burns were, I mean, they tried to do it with the actor in the movie, but it was much worse in real life. So they would have known how scary that would be and that he was indeed just a few rooms down and talks about. How he could smell the hair in the flesh burning and, and he was horrified and he immediately called and said, yeah, I’ll give a statement.
And then, Oh, that’s something, I’m not sure they took to the movie either. They threw Walter on death row immediately when, when he was arrested just for the sodomy charge, which believe it or not was not illegal, at least not at the time. It’s definitely an intimidation factor. You’re scared to death. They think you’ll confess once they throw you in there and you’ll get a lighter sentence because it’s, it’s horrifying.
But yeah, he sat on death row before he even went to trial.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:35:40] Oh, wow. Yeah. I didn’t realize you could do that. You could be sent to death row without ever being a trial.
Erica Kelley: [00:35:45] I was really unclear about it in the book, and I remember even trying to look up case law. I understand now that I, I believe it’s illegal, but at the time it wasn’t.
Brian Stevenson was, he was floored. He couldn’t believe that they had done that, that, that, that was allowed, but it was just another way that sheriff Tate intimidated people that he wanted to manipulate. If he wanted you to confess, he will throw you on death row.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:07] That’s, that’s insane. I was hoping that there would be some fiction in there.
Erica Kelley: [00:36:12] Oh, I’m sorry. Actually, this is much, much worse than real life, almost the whole movie, so yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:17] Wow. Wow. Well, according to the movie on April 16th, 1992 they hold a hearing to see if Walter McMillan deserves a new trial. During that hearing, Brian calls Ralph Myers to the stand when he asks Myers if the testimony that he gave against Walter was true.
Meyer’s initially says he doesn’t remember. You can tell Meyers is looking at sheriff Tate. So Brian kind of shifts over blocks the line of sight from sheriff pay. And he asked him again, and this time Walter is looking right at Meyers and Meyer’s looking right back him and Meyer says, no sir, not at all.
So one by one Brian asks Meyers about his testimony. Did you see Mr. McMillan that day with Ronda Morrison was murdered? No sir. Did you. Drive his truck to Monroeville that day? No. Did you go into Jackson cleaners and see Mr. McMillan standing over the body? Ronda Morrison, absolutely not. Then one month later, the judge issues his decisions.
Things don’t move very quickly in the courtroom.
Erica Kelley: [00:37:19] No, not at all.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:21] I’m saying that Meyers perjured himself in front of the court during the hearing and there was not enough evidence provided to give a retrial. So even after all of that. The judge essentially seems to just throw it out. Did Ralph Myers reverse his testimony against Walter McMillan at the hearing in April of 1992 and then the judge just decided to ignore it anyway?
Erica Kelley: [00:37:43] Yes. I’m not certain on the date of the hearing. Again, like I said, and Brian’s book, he’s not as obsessed with dates in which one, but that did happen and he did in fact stand between the line of sight of the judge and Ralph in order to get him to do the right thing and the judge still ignored it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:00] Wow.
According to the movie at least there was more than just Meyers there. They actually also had the police officer, Brian manages to track him down. I think they go to his house even to get him to talk on the stand and the. He was a former police offer, I should say. He was a police officer there. He was the first one on the scene in Rhonda’s murder.
He said he found Rhonda face down in the back, not face up near the register, like Meyerson his testimony. But then when he said that he wasn’t going to lie about it in court, that police officer was fired. So now he’s a former police officer. Did that sort of thing actually happened where the cop, the first one on the scene was fired because he didn’t want to lie about whatever happened.
To match with Myers’ testimony.
Erica Kelley: [00:38:45] Not that I could find, and I know for a fact that if I had found that it would be in my script, I think what they’re doing is another amalgam of what happened later when the ABI took over the investigation. Certain records were written up differently than the way the crime scene actually looked.
Things like that now is certainly possible. And what I think might’ve happened is there was one policeman that said, no, I’m not going to say that, and he just didn’t testify. And if that was the case, I may have left it out cause it’s not quite as juicy as I’m getting fired and there was so much ground to cover and so many illegal things that they did.
But I do believe that that’s probably twisted around with what the Alabama Bureau of investigation found. And here’s another thing, sheriff Tate and his people shouldn’t have been investigating this from day one. He should have waited for the ABI. That was one of the huge mistakes in this case. They basically mucked up the crime scene from the get go.
This was way out of his field of expertise. Here’s a County sheriff. The ABI would always be called in in a case like this, and by the time they got there, they had already moved Rondo’s body. The crime scene in mint trampled. So I know that that’s probably tied into that, that what you’ll find out later that when the ABI does actually reopen an investigation.
But yeah, it’s, sheriff Tate was a creep and did everything wrong from the very beginning. He’s one of those guys that, it’s my territory. I’ll do it. I’ll want, I’ll call the ABI ABI NF. I want, even if it’s not protocol, he didn’t care. He didn’t, he didn’t follow rules.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:40:11] Wow. And if he did it out in that one case, I’m sure there’s plenty more that he did that on.
Erica Kelley: [00:40:15] Oh yeah. I can tell you something about him when we get towards the end that you’ll find interesting too. So
Dan LeFebvre: [00:40:20] according to the movie, after hearing the, they’re kind of re the judge rejecting that. Brian starts paperwork to take it to the state Supreme court. But before he does that, Johnny D’s case makes it to 60 minutes and a movie.
We see everyone, Brian. Walter and his cell, Johnny Dina cell, even. He’s got a TV there. Sheriff Tate, the da Chapman. They’re all watching TV as the 60 minutes. I don’t remember who the host is, but he’s interviewing Johnny D Ralph Myers and more. Basically they’re laying out everything that we saw at the hearing, the things that we’ve talked about so far.
All of this, but it’s the first time that the public is hearing all of these different things and they’re able to make their own decisions about it. And I’m sure they’re coming to many of the same conclusions that we’ve come to so far in our discussion that all of this just doesn’t really seem to line up.
And then only after this do we hear that the state Supreme court overturned the circuit court’s decision and grants a new trial. Did the 60 minutes episode, did it actually happen? And if so, did it have that effect that we see where that was really why the state Supreme court ended up taking the trial.
Erica Kelley: [00:41:30] Absolutely. That whole thing was true. And the interesting part of that is Brian Stevenson had been contacted by many national news outlets, you know, can, can we cover this story? And he’d always said no, because the local media was very biased. You know, everybody believed Walter McMillan did it, and he did not trust even national media to do the right thing.
But at this point, he was becoming desperate. He was running out of appeals. He was running out of time, and he was like. Why not? We can see what happens. And I mean, he talks about in his book how it was a game changer. It changed the whole case. It changed how not just, I mean, suddenly it really was a national case and everybody was looking at it, but also it really changed the attitude of citizens of Monroeville and Monroe County.
When they really got to see the evidence laid out in front of them, they were kind of horrified. There was so much that they really didn’t know about the case so much. That was basically hidden at trial. The original da had, and Chapman I need to point out was not the original da, but the original da HIDS so much evidence that he actually should have been prosecuted, but I don’t believe that ever happened.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:42:37] Wow. And it sounds like it, you know, the local people there in Monroeville, if the local media was bias as well, then of course they may have been getting some information from the 60 minutes episode that they had never even heard before.
Erica Kelley: [00:42:50] Yeah. I mean, that’s exactly what happened. You know, you gotta think the local media is going by whatever testimony or statements that the police and investigators will release.
They’re not talking to Walter’s family. They’re not talking to the black community. We’re talking about the white media here. The black community was always behind Walter, 100% you know, for one thing, they don’t, I forget how many people they said saw him the day at the fish fry. Like there, it’s, it’s amazing how many witnesses he had as an alibi.
And at his first trial, they only called three.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:43:22] Yeah. But still, even on the other side, they had less than three and they still.
Erica Kelley: [00:43:26] But they, they had a whole string of people ready to testify to where they saw him, what he was doing. And I think, cause lawyers, you know, Bryan Stevenson is a really kind band and he never wants criticized his original team.
And I think what happened with the original lawyers is they saw which way the wind was blowing. They knew that evidence was being hid. They knew that they could parade up 15 more. People that saw him that day and what this white judge and jury, we’re going to see where, you know, 15 more black people just sticking up for a black man.
And the way racism plays into this. I think that’s why they gave up at three witnesses. It’s really sad.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:44:02] So maybe it wasn’t necessarily that the original lawyer, because in the movie I got the sense that the lawyer, the original lawyers wants the money ran out. They left. So it was pretty much, you know the money necessarily, but maybe what, from what you’re saying, it sounds like perhaps they thought it was a case they were never going to win anyway because the book was stacked against them essentially because everything was being thrown out or covered up or whatever it might be.
Erica Kelley: [00:44:24] Right? I don’t think that they left when the money ran out, actually. and that’s another thing about the black community being behind Walter. They raised enough money to get accomplished civil rights lawyers from Selma, like these, these were men that were used to arguing this sort of thing, and they did do his first, you know, the first process and asking for a new trial and motions.
Once all that was denied, Walter had to go through the appeals process. Different kinds of lawyers have different strengths, and even though they handled his first case, it would typically go to a different attorney. So that’s kind of why this happened. And then, you know, Johnny D gets thrown on death row and it becomes a death row case.
So they definitely may not have taken it at that point because of it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:45:03] Yeah, that’s a different, or adds more context to those original lawyers. Then . According to the movie. After all this happens with 60 minutes, da Chapman asks the court to stay to proceedings while he opens a new investigation.
Basically, it’s really clear that he just wants to keep Walter on death row until he can try to build a new case against him because the old case got shot to. Well, I won’t throw in the exploit of that. When Brian goes to Chapman’s home to confront him about this, Chapman argues that it’s not about his reputation and not about Chapman’s reputation.
It’s his job to make sure the people of this County are safe. And Brian points out the flaw and then what people, the ones from this neighborhood or what about the black community, they’re still in this County that you took Johnny D from. Do you think they feel safe. Before leaving. Brian tells Chapman that as long as he keeps fighting this, then someone in your County has literally gotten away with murder.
It’s a very, I mean, very heated exchange and I thought the actress did a great job of portraying that back and forth. And then Brian says he’s filing a motion to dismiss all charges and says Chapman should join it. Did the da try to keep building a new case after this, even though the holes were added to her, poked in the previous one.
Erica Kelley: [00:46:24] Actually, no. If I remember correctly, he did make the statement in court that he wanted to stay to try and build a new investigation, but actually, and Brian Stevenson didn’t find this out until sometime later after Chapman watched the 60 minutes segment. He was the one that called the Alabama Bureau of investigation and it asks them to reopen the case.
He was kind of horrified, but he did have a pretty heated exchange with Brian over the phone that was similar to this. I’m not sure it was quite this dramatic, but it was more of a. not even a racist thing. more of a, a guy thing, a machismo thing. Like, you’re not going to tell me what to do. I’ll reopen this case if I want to.
You know what I mean? It was more, or something like that. So once they got to court and Brian said he is filing a motion and I hope you will join it, he would not commit to that over the phone. But when he got to court, he did. He did actually join him. And Brian was a little bit surprised, but a little bit not.
He figured that Chapman knew which way the wind was blowing this time and that now, you know, the entire nation was watching. Are you really going to put this man back on trial with no evidence? So, I mean, the phone call was a little bit of strong army stuff. Like I said again. But yeah, no, he didn’t do that.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:33] It’s interesting that Chapman was the one to call into ABI then, cause I don’t remember them ever coming into the movie. And this makes it seem like he’s just. Trying to keep at it, even though at this point in the movie it is. I mean, you could tell which way the wind’s blowing and is a lot, cause you can, you can tell that, you know, the, the truth is coming out and it seems like Chapman is still stuck in his ways.
Erica Kelley: [00:47:56] He’s playing within the system. You know, he’s a politician and he’s got to work with sheriff T, you know, so, I mean there’s a little bit of that going on, but Chapman wasn’t stupid.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:48:05] Well, you alluded to this a little bit, but at the end of the movie, we see another hearing that date on, this is March 2nd, 1993.
And this hearing is to dismiss all charges against Walter. When Brian gets there, he finds all the white people can enter the courtroom. First. The black people of the community are forced to wait, which means that by the time court is in session, we see a shot of the courtroom and it’s very telling that white people are all sitting down and black people are forced to stand in the back and watch Brian’s opening statements.
In the hearing clearly points out the bigotry, the bias that racism. In this case, they believed the testimony of a single white man who was a convicted felon, when simultaneously ignoring the testimony of a dozen law abiding black citizens. That’s not justice. It’s not right. When Chapman is called on to give the state’s position, there’s.
There’s a pause. You know the, the pause for dramatic effect I’m sure, and he says he’s taken another look at the case and the state does not object to the motion. State is joining the order to dismiss all charges with that. Walter McMillan is a free man. That’s how the movie shows it happening. Is that how it really happened?
Erica Kelley: [00:49:17] Yes. Except for the beginning part when you talk about how they walk into the courtroom and the black people are made to wait outside and the white people who are already in there, that didn’t actually happen at that hearing. It was at one of the earlier hearings for a pill. And it was very disheartening.
And I believe, if I remember correctly, Brian petition, the judges said, this is not right. This is not how this is supposed to work. You can’t close the doors, let them all come and take the seats. And so after that, that stopped being a policy, but it didn’t exactly happen at this hearing. Everything else there, you know, his impassioned plea and Chapman getting up and doing the right thing, all that did happen.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:49:52] Sounds like, again, they’re kind of like with the cops that pulled them over. They’re taking elements from other aspects and putting it into this story so that you can get a little more of a complete sets of things that did happen, but maybe not necessarily at that time.
Erica Kelley: [00:50:06] Yup, exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:50:07] In the movie we never really see after Walter gets off keys free from the accusation of murdering Ronda Morrison, but we never really find out who really did kill her.
Do we know who actually killed her was? Were they ever caught?
Erica Kelley: [00:50:21] They were never prosecuted. Let’s put it that way. Brian alluded to him briefly and his book, but there is a man named Pete early. He was a former Washington post reporter that wrote a book on the case. It’s called circumstantial evidence, death, life, and justice in a small town, and he used it.
Pseudonym for the man that they believe did it. And he was actually, you know, it wasn’t just bomb threats. They had people calling in and saying all kinds of crazy things. And there was this one man that kept calling Brian’s office saying, well, I have information, I have information. And he did weirdly know details that he shouldn’t have known.
A little bit too much. And again, Brian is not really in his book trying to solve the case as much as Pete early tried to in his book. So he goes much deeper into this and it turns out the sky, and he used a pseudonym. Both of them did, because obviously for legal reasons, the man was ever prosecuted.
Basically the ABI told Monroe County to charge this man. They had that much evidence on him. They found out that he had harassed former girlfriends. He was known for making obscene calls, and he kind of told this long rambling story and if anybody wants to listen to my episode on a, I cover the whole thing.
But basically he kind of gave a like a what, F what if this is what happened? One of the, you know, this guy was just making obscene phone calls and I just went to go see her one day and things got out of hand. And it, it kinda made sense, but Monroe County refused to prosecute him. And all P early would say was that he came from a very prominent family in the County and he was white.
So of course they didn’t do anything about it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:51:57] Sounds like something that, just from what you’ve said of sheriff Tate, there’s two sides to that. One, you know, if he’s very, very prominent in the community, but then also not wanting to admit that he was wrong about Walter.
Erica Kelley: [00:52:10] Well, and here’s another thing that I found really interesting, is that it actually makes a lot more sense to the crime scene.
The ABI later said, this is a sex crime. There’s no doubt. You know, I hurt her. I believe her shirt was unbuttoned or ripped, and her pants were unbuttoned. There had definitely been a struggle. She had fought with someone and it looked much more from the crime scene photos, like a sex crime. And that’s how the ABI labeled it.
And you know, this is how stupid, if you ask me and shortsighted not to mention racist, that sheriff Tate was, he prosecuted Walter McMillan saying that he shot this girl over $35 in the cash till. That day. Again, Walter McMillan was a successful businessman. He did not need $35 he would not risk something like this.
It’s ridiculous. And a sheriff Tate had really wanted to frame him in a way that was more believable. He could have tried to pin in a sex crime on him. He could’ve said Walter was going in there to rape Ronda Morrison, which actually. The community would have rallied behind because Walter had dated a white woman and he already had a target on his back for that.
So this is sheriff Tate’s stupidity. You know, his unwillingness to really read the crime scene and also his ineptitude. He didn’t know what he was doing. If he had let the ABI come in there and classify this for what it was, he might still have gone after Walter McMillan because they didn’t have a suspect, but he would have done it for the right reason.
At least. At least it would have been treated as a sex crime. And it’s odd to me that, you know, he’s going to pick up. He could have picked up anybody, but you know, he only got him because of Ralph Meyer. And Ralph Meyer had a personal thing with Walter because of his ex girlfriend. So it was really, really shortsighted on his part and ignorant.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:53:50] Wow. Wow. It sounds like it almost makes me wonder what sheriff Tate had against Walter, other than, you know, just being racist. I dunno. It just sounds like he’s just going after this guy for no reason.
Erica Kelley: [00:54:04] Yeah. I know for a fact he ticked him off pretty bad when they arrested him because Walter laughed.
You don’t laugh at a white cop when you’re a black man at that time. I don’t know so much that you should do it now. But yeah, he did appreciate that and walked or laughed because he literally didn’t know what sodomy meant and he couldn’t believe that this is what he was being charged with. He was basically like, are you crazy?
And sheriff Tate was very offended by that, you know? I think he dug in his Hills right then and there.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:54:31] Okay, okay. Yeah. And the movie doesn’t mention any of that.
Erica Kelley: [00:54:35] Now you don’t see this, you don’t really see that much of sheriff Tay. You don’t get that feeling of what he is.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:54:40] Yeah. There’s little bits here and there, but not nearly to what you’ve mentioned.
Erica Kelley: [00:54:45] Yeah, he was awful. Years later, he was actually caught. He embezzled the money that he was given by the state to feed prisoners, and this is another totally bizarre thing. It actually was not illegal. What he was doing was, as long as everybody was given their three hots for the day, if there is any money leftover, he was allowed to pocket it.
And there became a huge investigation statewide to change the laws on this. He wasn’t the only sheriff doing it, but he did resign from office not long after it happened. Some people say in disgrace, but he went right back to his community. He, you know, I don’t think he really resigned in disgrace, but that just kind of shows you the kind of person he was.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:55:23] Wow. So basically just pocketing money,
Erica Kelley: [00:55:26] people’s food, money, probably buying the cheapest crap he could to feed the prisoners that can’t help themselves. And then pocketing the rest of the state’s money.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:55:35] If all it is is a numbers game, you just got to check off the box that you’ve done this. Then you know, what’s the difference between us throw random numbers out there, you know, 10 bucks a meal versus 20 bucks a meal while I wouldn’t do the cheaper one and pocket the extra.
Wow. Yeah. That’s crazy. Now, after researching the case and watching the movie, is there anything else about the way that the movie depicted something that really just stood out to you as being factually inaccurate?
Erica Kelley: [00:55:58] Yeah. I don’t really mind the way that they used Eva as a character that kind of combined other characters that worked with Brian.
The one thing that struck me, and it was. The acting in this scene was incredible, and it was towards the end of the movie where his son starts shouting a court and he’s taken down and Walter and Brian are both pleading with him. Stop, stop it. Do not resist. Don’t do this. That didn’t happen. Then that happened at his first trial.
Brian wasn’t even there because in his first trial, the jury sentenced him to life in prison and the judge overrided it and gave him death, and that’s when young Johnny D Walter’s son freaked out in court and said, you’re killing my father. You don’t have any evidence. And you know, of course Walter was pleading with him, his son, hush, stopped, stop, you know, I don’t want you in a jail cell too.
And it was, it was so tragic and horrifying. But again, they would have actually had to have shown bits of Walter’s first trial, and that’s not what this movie was about. So I get it. But that was a huge difference. And Brian really wasn’t there on a part of that.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:56:58] Yeah. So you were directing this movie.
What’s one thing that you would do differently? Maybe something they left out or something they put in that they shouldn’t have? What would that be?
Erica Kelley: [00:57:08] You know, I think it’s the true crime podcasts journey about Ronda Morrison has completely forgotten. They don’t go into the crime at all. They don’t go into to the investigation.
I don’t think they ever mentioned in the movie the possibility that it was actually a sex crime. I don’t know that they could have done an entire reaction of what really happened that day because the whole movie, you’re supposed to be hearing it from Ralph Myers, point of view. Walter was never even there, so he didn’t know what happened.
But I guess if there was one thing I wish that they did would be that they somehow did Rhonda better. You know what I mean? That they highlighted her case a little bit in what, what they had gotten wrong. Again, I kind of understand why they did it and to be fair, the book, I mean, the movie is based on Bryan Stevenson’s book, and as I said, that book is really about, his larger work has worked within the equal justice initiative.
He worked with the, not just poor, but mentally ill and most importantly juveniles in the system that were tried as adults and that were just thrown away. I mean, this is his life’s work and the book is more about that. It’s more about his life’s work framed. By Walter’s case. Like Walter’s case is the running theme through the book to kind of highlight one particular case, but he talks about all kinds of them, so I can kind of see why they don’t do it.
But yeah, there’s a part of me that’s like, Oh, Rhonda just got completely tossed aside for everything else, and that sucks. But again, the, maybe it was two hours and 15 minutes, so I get it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:58:35] Yeah, that makes sense. Thank you so much for coming on and chatting about just mercy. I know you covered mr McMillan’s case, or Johnny D’s case, or Walter, however you want to call it, on your own podcast as well as you have a ton of other cases that you cover in your true crime show.
Can you give us an overview of your podcast and where someone listening can find it?
Erica Kelley: [00:58:53] Yeah, sure. It’s Southern Fred true crime. You can find it on any large platform, Spotify, Stitcher, I heart, iTunes, all the, all of those, and I’m definitely a true Southern podcaster. I definitely dig into the good old boy justice system.
I especially like to handle wrongful convictions and racially motivated cases. I also really like to highlight the epidemic of domestic violence in our country and rape culture. I guess I’m what you would call a social justice warrior in the South. And you know, justice in the South can be very different according to your skin color.
And that’s just the truth. People sundowns don’t like it and they don’t want to face it, but it’s the truth. And that’s, that’s what I like to highlight on my show.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:59:33] Thank you so much for your time, Erica.
Erica Kelley: [00:59:34] Thank you. I had a lot of fun.