Book: Circumstantial Evidence

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Circumstantial Evidence

Author: Pete Earley
Publisher: Bantam Books

Pete Earley’s The Hot House gave America a riveting, uncompromising look at the nation’s most notorious prison—the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas—a book that Kirkus Reviews called a “fascinating white-knuckle tour of hell, brilliantly reported.” Now Earley shows us a different, even more intimate view of justice—and injustice—American-style.

In Monroeville, Alabama, in the fall of 1986, a pretty junior college student was found murdered in the back of the dry cleaning shop where she worked. Several months later, Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian, a black man with no criminal record, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the crime. As McMillian sat in his cell on Alabama’s death row, a young black lawyer named Bryan Stevenson took up his own investigation into the murder of Ronda Morrison. Finding a trial tainted by procedural mistakes, conflicting eyewitness accounts, and outright perjury, he was determined to see McMillian go free—even if it took the most unconventional means…


This classic tale of murder and injustice in a small Alabama town has a great cast of characters: a sweet-faced and popular teenaged girl, some bumbling but well-meaning homicide detectives, another teenaged girl who’s considered “trailer trash,” her identical twin aunts who have bulldog tenacity, a ditzy white woman who likes her weed and her black boyfriends, a racist good-ol’-boy sheriff, a wily raconteur of a con man, three black lawyers with impeccable credentials in civil rights activism, and the stars of the story, a wronged black man and his long-suffering wife. Circumstantial Evidence is an entertaining mystery as well: If you pay close attention, you may guess the solution. As the New York Times writes, “Without preaching, Mr. Earley shows how subtle and overt racism conspired to condemn a man while giving lip service to the legal system’s supposed objectivity.” Circumstantial Evidence won the 1996 Edgar Award for best fact crime.

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