Brigid Delaney: In your book Just Mercy you write about a death penalty case where your client Herbert Richardson was executed. You were with him in his last hours. One of the most interesting things was how you observed a sense of shame and discomfort among the prison staff involved in the execution. Tell us about that experience.
Bryan Stevenson: It was the first time I had got involved with someone who was executed, and we got involved very late. After fighting and running and rushing and pushing so hard to get a stay [of execution], they denied the stay motion and I was intimate with these people who were attempting to carry out the execution. It was surreal. But it was surreal for them too. There is no natural way to systematically engage in killing another human being who is not a threat to you, who doesn’t have to be killed, but is killed to express what kind of people we are and what our society wants.
This guard who I write about hadn’t thought about what it was going to be like to get the family members of this condemned man to basically walk away from him so he could be strapped in the electric chair. The intensity of the emotions of the family members – he had just been married and his wife grabbed him and would not let him go – sobbing and the intensity of that, was completely unnerving to these corrections guards who were being ordered by other people who were far enough away not to hear the sobbing – the pain of trying to pull these people away.