Mr. McMillian was miles away with his family when Ronda Morrison was slain. It didn't matter, though. He was found guilty and condemned to death by electrocution based on the false testimony of a criminal and despite statements from multiple black witnesses who could attest for his whereabouts at the time of the crime.
After several delays, Mr. McMillian was executed by electric current on July 2, 1997. No one knew then that only months later another woman would be murdered in the same manner. This time, however, there would be no pardon from the President. Her name was Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She was a sister to Senator Edward M. Kennedy and wife to Robert F. Kennedy, both of whom were influential politicians at the time.
Mrs. Shriver was also well-known for her work with disabled children, especially those with cerebral palsy. In 1967, she founded the Special Olympics, an international sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. The Games have been held every year since then and have expanded beyond what anyone could have imagined back then. Today, they involve more than 10,000 athletes from 70 countries around the world.
In January 2009, after retiring as president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Mrs. Shriver's body was returned home for burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Although she had no known relatives living, she was given a full military funeral service.
In August 1988, a black man called Walter McMillian, also known as Johnny D, was condemned to death in Monroeville, Alabama, for the murder of a white young girl. His trial lasted only two days. Yet he was found guilty anyway.
At his sentencing hearing, the only witness called by the defense was Dr. James Grigson, a pathologist from Birmingham who had just published the results of an autopsy he had done on Ronda's body. He concluded that she had been shot twice at close range with a.22-caliber gun. One bullet remained inside her body; the other one came out of her back.
Dr. Grigson said that this type of wound was usually fatal, but not always. He told the court that there were cases where people had been killed with a.22 pistol and yet they survived. For example, he said, "I know of at least three cases in which persons have been brought to this hospital with.22-caliber gunshot wounds and have lived."
After listening to Dr. Grigson, the judge sentenced Mr. McMillian to life in prison without parole. He died in 2009 after serving more than 20 years behind bars.
Dr. Grigson's statement caused some confusion among lawyers representing Mr. McMillian in a subsequent lawsuit.
McMillian was returned to his death row cell, where he would spend the next six years. In Monroeville, Alabama, Walter McMillian was tried and condemned to death for the murder of a young white woman. Bryan Stevenson challenged Mr. McMillian's conviction and exhausted all available appeals. The case was then taken up by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., which had successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that executing an intellectually disabled person violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
In May 2013, Bryan Stevenson went to Montgomery to argue that executing an intellectually disabled person is unconstitutional. At the time, Mr. McMillian was only 29 years old. He did not kill anyone in an intentional way, but rather suffered from a mental illness at the time he committed the crime. Despite this, Mr. McMillian was sentenced to die in the gas chamber.
Mr. McMillian's execution was set for 7:00 p.m. On June 5, 2013, Mr. McMillian's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to stop his execution because he was mentally impaired when he killed Miss Whitaker. The request was denied. Around 6:00 p.m., Mr. McMillian's attorneys filed a new motion asking the Supreme Court to stay his execution until they could study his case further. This too was denied.
Death and later life McMillian eventually acquired dementia, which was thought to be caused by the trauma of his imprisonment. On September 11, 2013, he passed away. He will be buried at New Hope Church Cemetery in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
After McMillian's death, his wife, Mary Ann, decided to continue his political campaign. She ran for mayor of Pine Bluff as a Democrat but was defeated by her opponent, Charles A. Miller, who had been appointed to the position after Mayor Earl Ray Staggers died in June 2013.
Mary Ann McMillian then started her own political action committee called the Just Mercy League. The group supports candidates who support criminal justice reform issues such as reducing prison overcrowding, ending cash bail, and stopping the practice of seeking additional charges against suspects who can't pay for their crimes.
Walter "Johnny D." McMillian (October 27, 1941–September 11, 2013) was a Monroeville, Alabama, African-American pulpwood worker who was falsely convicted of murder and condemned to death. His conviction was acquired illegally through police coercion and lying. There is strong evidence that he was innocent.
On September 11, 2013, more than 13 years after his conviction, Johnny D's case was reviewed by Governor Robert J. Bentley. The governor granted him a full pardon on behalf of the state of Alabama.
The crime for which he was convicted: in 1991, 14-year-old Eric Idlebird was playing basketball with some friends at the community center in Monroe County when several men arrived and began shooting into the crowd. Johnny D was arrested and charged with murder, but was never allowed to tell his side of the story. He took a plea deal instead. The only witness against him was a man who had been given a sentence of probation after he testified against McMillian.
Eric's body was found two days later near where he had fallen. He had multiple gunshot wounds from which most of his organs were removed.
Johnny D was denied parole 10 times before being released on March 9, 2003. Upon his release, he went straight to the newspaper office where he worked to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Alabama.