The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on June 23, 1995 · 43
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · 43

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Atlanta, Georgia
Issue Date:
Friday, June 23, 1995
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43
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Jhe Atlanta Journal The Atlanta Constitution rirws Friday, June 23, 1995 P7 Around the South 'V J 17 hi 1 Auoeiited Prat 1995 MacArthur Fellowship recipient and Harvard law school graduate Bryan Stevenson poses In front of his office In Montgomery, Ala. Activist lawyer true to self Fellowship winner prefers human rights over ritzy life By Earnest Reese STAFF WRITER Montgomery, Ala. Bryan Stevenson has I I been declared a "genius," which he says Is nice. But such flattery, which accompanied a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship awarded him re qently, is not likely to change the hat size of the 35-year-old Harvard law grad. At best, it will strengthen the resolve of Stevenson, a no-frills human rights activist who for the past six .years has been working tirelessly to get death row sentences of Alabama prison inmates reversed. ! VI can't take any of that stuff too seriously, Just as I can't take it too seriously when we're called legal terrorists and troublemakers," said Stevenson, director of the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center. ; Stevenson's office is on the top floor of an old two-story house several blocks from Alabama's State Capitol building. If he looks beneath one window, he can catch sight of a huge collection of oil drums and stacks of discarded tractor tires that almost rise to eye level. This is not exactly the typical work setting for a brilliant young lawyer. By choice instead of circumstance, it is for Stevenson, who drives an '88 Toyota Corolla and draws a salary equal to a first-year public school teacher's. ,' "He's an extraordinary person. He literally could've written his own ticket could've gone to a big law firm in New York or Washington or anywhere," said attorney Steve Bright, director of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. "Instead, he chose to take on the most difficult work In the legal profession." , The services rendered by Stevenson and his 12-member staff have been deemed "tremendously significant" by the John D. and Catherine T. Mac-Arthur Foundation, which awarded him $230,000 to be used as he sees fit. It will help fund a new project called Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson said. "We lived In a community where the effects of poverty were very real," said Stevenson, the second of three children living in Milton, Del. "Milton was a community where a lot of migrant farmers would come. You saw how poverty and race affected life's options. ! "I understood that coming up and was always vexed by it," he said. "That's really why I thought about going to law school. Law was a way of confronting some of those issues." In 1982, while a student at Harvard, Stevenson came to Atlanta to work under Bright and other lawyers with the Southern Center for Human Rights. Law was a way to confront racial and poverty issues, says Stevenson, "I saw these people very Invested in what they were doing very committed," he said. "I identified with that. "I saw in jail, prisons in death penalty litigations an opportunity to confront race and poverty issues for folks who desperately needed legal assistance. It was an area where there was a great deal of neglect. People on death row were literally dying for lawyers to help them." In a capital murder case featured on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes," it was the efforts of Stevenson that got six-year death row inmate Walter McMillian set free in March of '93. McMillian had been accused of killing a dry cleaning clerk in Monroeville, Ala. "It's rare when you can actually prove that someone had absolutely nothing to do with a case even if they are innocent," said Stevenson, who more commonly is trying to obtain a life prison term for someone under death sentence. The trial of McMillian, who could not afford legal representation, lasted Wi days. Most capital murder trials for people of his socioeconomic ilk are 3Vi days on average, Stevenson says. "That person has to accept a lawyer who may only meet with them three or four times before the trial begins if he or she is lucky," said Stevenson, who conducts seminars for defense attorneys throughout the country. "The lawyer may not call any witnesses, or conduct any cross examinations." By state law, court-appointed attorneys can be paid no more than $1,000 a case. In his effort to right some wrongs, Stevenson Is involved at some level with all 140 death row inmates in Alabama prisons. He finds fulfillment in his work. "I didn't realize that people who have been out of school as long as I have have advanced past the point where they're now partners at these large, top-level law firms," he said, referring to some of his classmates. "They've accumulated for themselves riches that are valuable to them. I think that's fine, but I don't envy that. I feel really enriched by the kinds of experiences I've had working with people in these communities and feel very rewarded to have seen hope Increase in communities where hopelessness had prevailed previously. Right now, I would not stop doing what I'm doing for any amount of money." mm mm 4 deaths blamed on lack of officers The U.S. House of Representatives has charged that a shortage of officers contributed to the deaths of four students in a swamp-training exercise at Camp Rudder in Florida in February. There are supposed to be 122 officers assigned to the U.S. Army Ranger Training Brigade, but there are only 43, Twenty-six of those officers were supposed to be on duty at Camp Rudder, but there were only eight. The House voted to give the Army a year to bring the officer complement up to budgeted level or cut back training. The measure now awaits Senate action. HILL LOSES: The Florida Supreme Court refused to let abortion foe Paul Hill represent himself in the appeal of his death sentences for the shotgun slaylngs of Dr. John Bayard Brit-ton and his escort, Jim Barrett, last July in Peniacola. SNAKE BITES: As tourists at the Reptile World Serpentarium In Orlando, watched, George Van Horn was bitten twice on the left arm while "milking" a king cobra of its deadly venom. Despite antivenin treatments, Van Horn, who has performed his venom show for 23 years, has only a 50-50 chance to survive, said Joe Brown of Orlando Regional Medical Center. MERCY PLEA: Ronald Graves, 25, convicted of killing a New Orleans tourist he mistakenly thought was homosexual, got life in prison after the vie tlm's father asked jurors to let him live. "There's been enough killing here," said William Ba-log, whose son, Joseph, 23, of Culfport, Mln., was killed Nov. 11, 1993, In the French Quarter. Jurors convicted Graves Wednesday, agreeing with the prosecution's assertion that he and John Kevin Johnson, 23, both of suburban Metalrle, stabbed Balog. Johnson still faces trial on murder charges. Compiled by Cerre Ferri i -.fJBfe 1 -i9-C ' TT""Vfi" lTBfcyi ' Pi "ft .a! X r; MX K I (ft nflhh mm s mm & W PR i trie rvrrnnrAnr 5 IDS. FLAVOR SEALED PUG. K A;1 !L"ii, lb. Ur.lt 2 i..J Friday, June 23 Only mam t ri n r""'i n r nn IMS 1 10-VJ-30AUD 10-VMO x -if, . ' 1 ) Qvzrt Cans Limit 6 Saturday, Juna 24 Only r 1 "v r v S 0 K) A J l i H si - r . . . .

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