IN 1988 in Monroeville, Alabama, Ronda Morrison, the 18-year-old daughter of a respected local family, was found murdered in the town’s dry cleaning store. When the sheriff’s office failed to make an arrest after months of investigation, the community grew angry and started accusing the police of incompetence. Spurred by criticism, officials indicted Walter McMillian, a local black man whose affair with a white woman had become the subject of heated town discussion. In the absence of evidence, the State coerced witnesses into testifying against him. Their statements didn’t hold with the facts of the case, but that didn’t matter much. Neither did the testimony of three black witnesses who confirmed that Mr McMillian had been at a church fish fry at the time of the murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death; in fact, he had been held on death row before his trial had even begun.
Monroeville is best known as the hometown of Harper Lee and the setting of her 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (It is renamed as “Maycomb” in her novel.) The town has claimed her for bragging rights ever since the book became a bestseller, which was almost instantly.