Family of wrongfully convicted Alabama man hopes newly released movie inspires change

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The memoir and movie Just Mercy highlights the wrongful conviction and exoneration of Walter McMillian, and several family members hope the passion for the story doesn't just end, because the movie plot happens each and every day.

Walter (Johnny D.) McMillian was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1988 and sentenced to death. In November 1992, he told CBS News 60 Minutes that Alabama was preparing to execute the wrong person.

There were no fingerprints, ballistic tests, or physical evidence linking McMillian to the murder. The only "evidence" presented came from one alleged witness who was doing time for another murder, and a judge thought it was enough to give McMillian the death penalty.

Yvette Hewlett, McMillian's daughter said his cell was on the same hall as the electric chair. "He said you're sitting there and you're thinking in your mind: 'When is it my turn?'" says Yvette.

McMillian was held on death row for almost six years until his attorney, Bryan Stevenson, proved his innocence.

CBS News reports that one person had lied on the stand, which Stevenson proved to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in the months after the 60 Minutes report aired. He also showed that the prosecution had illegally suppressed exculpatory evidence. The court overturned the conviction, and on March 2, 1993, Johnny D. left the courtroom as a free man.

Yvette says it wasn't an accident that God sent Bryan to our father. Another of McMillian's daughters, Renita Odom, says the courage he had gave the family another chance to have their father back.

But even with their father's release, the family lost about six years with him.

"The time that we had with our dad, that had been taken away from us," says Yvette. "His freedom had been taken away from us. And the state of Alabama still doesn't even have the decency to say I'm sorry."

Now, McMillian's family wants to see change.

"I would love to see more people being released because I'm sure there are more people in that situation," says Renita.

Wendall Odom, Walter McMillian's son says he wishes for a better system for those who get in any kind of trouble. "I wish they had a little better system set up to where they could be represented better so they don't end up in a situation like Daddy was."

The recently released movie Just Mercy tells McMillan's story, but even after audiences leave the theater... the family doesn't want people to forget that this exact thing happens every day.

"I hope that this fire will catch fire and it will spread like a wildfire," says Yvette.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 167 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated. Six of those being in Alabama, and the first of which, being Walter McMillian.

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