cover image Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial Evidence

Pete Earley, Pete Farley. Bantam Books, $23.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-553-09501-2

``I wanted to show just how difficult it can be in a death penalty case to discover the truth,'' declares Earley (The Hot House), and he proves his point with an engrossing, challenging trip into the labyrinth. Monroeville, Ala., was the fictionalized setting of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; on Nov. 1, 1986, it was the site of the shooting of an 18-year-old white female store clerk; four months later, another white teenager was murdered in Brewton, 36 miles away. A black man, Walter ``Johnny D.'' McMillian, the boyfriend of a white ne'er-do-well associated with the second teenager's family, was implicated in the murders more than three months later, despite a strong alibi and numerous inconsistencies in witnesses' statements. After McMillian was convicted and sentenced to death, the courageous efforts of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer devoted to death penalty appeals, reopened the investigation, pried clear some obvious lies in the prosecution's case and, with the help of a 60 Minutes broadcast that laid out the appeal, got McMillian freed. The case remains open, but Earley lays out some alternate theories, as well as hints at possible suspects. A memorable tale of the many points where investigations are fallible. (Sept.)