McMillian, who had been in an affair with a white woman, violated long-established sexual taboos. This, in part, explains local officials’ bias and stubborn insistence of his guilt. Sheriff Thomas Tate, who led the shoddy investigation, reportedly told McMillian at his arrest: “We’re going to keep all you niggers from running around with these white girls. I ought to take you off and hang you.” Tate remains county sheriff.
Fortunately for McMillian, Stevenson took the case amidst intimidation from local officials and bomb threats from others. He secured McMillian’s release in 1993 after demonstrating his innocence and that the state had fabricated the case against him.
But as with many exonerations, the victory was far from triumphant. McMillian left death row broken and never regained the independence of his former life. The judicial system that destroyed him remains in place, resistant to reform, and prone to the same mistakes, which it has repeated.
As Stevenson’s book poignantly illustrates, when you dig into the details of capital punishment and how it actually functions, you encounter an institution that is impossible to justify. Nebraska lawmakers recognized this and overrode Governor Ricketts’ veto. It is likely other states in coming years will reach the same conclusion.