While many of the cases featured in the upcoming crime drama “Just Mercy” have relative happy endings, the story of Herbert Richardson, unlike that of Walter McMillian and Anthony Ray Hinton, ends in death, with Richardson ultimately unable to escape the electric chair.
Richardson, a Vietnam War veteran, was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death following the killing of an 11-year-old girl, according to the Huffington Post.
Rena Mae Callins, was the niece of a woman who’d been in a relationship with Richardson, The New York Times reported in 1989. After the unnamed woman ended her relationship with Richardson, he allegedly left a pipe bomb on her porch that detonated when her niece picked it up, according to the outlet. However, Richardson claimed that the girl’s death was an accident, and the bomb was not intended to kill anyone — only to scare her family.
Still, Richardson’s multiple appeals were denied, prompting him to seek out the assistance of attorney Bryan Stevenson one month before he was to face the electric chair, according to the Huffington Post. Speaking to the outlet in 2015, Stevenson said that Richardson had been left traumatized and disturbed by his time in the war but did not have the support he needed upon his return home. He filed a stay of execution on his client’s behalf, but it was rejected.
In rejecting the request, District Court Judge Robert Varner said that it was “'beyond the bounds of reason to believe that a device which maimed and killed an 11-year-old child by exploding in her hands could be thought of as not presenting a serious risk of harm,” according to The Times.
Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt also refused to grant clemency for Richardson, according to the Times.
The war veteran, who reportedly had unexplained “crying spells” among other issues during his service, was put to death on Aug. 19, 1989, according to an archived report from United Press International. Before his death, he refused to have a last meal, and requested to be blindfolded as he was led to the chamber, according to the outlet.
In a final statement before his execution, Richardson said, “I have no ill feeling and hold nothing against anyone,” The Times reported.
He was the first Vietnam war veteran to be put to death, and the sixth inmate in the state of Alabama to be executed following the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision to reinstate capital punishment, per UPI’s report.
Stevenson told the Huffington Post in 2015 that his last interactions with Richardson have stayed with him.
Richardson told his attorney that, "All day long, people have been saying, 'What can I do to help you? Can we get you water? Can we get you coffee? Can we get you stamps to mail your last letter?'"
"Bryan, it's so strange," Stevenson recalled his client telling him. "More people have said, 'What can I do to help you?' in the last 14 hours of my life than they ever did in the first 19 years of my life."
“I was holding his hands, standing there with him and thinking, ‘Yeah, where were they when you were 3 when your mom died? Where were they when you were 7 and you were experimenting with drugs? Where were they when you were a young teenager returning from Vietnam traumatized and drug-addicted?'” Stevenson said.
Richardson spent 11 years in all on death row, during which he busied himself painting religious works of art, according to UPI’s report.
Ten days before he was executed, he married a woman he met after writing to the El Bethel Primitive Baptist Church, whose broadcasts he listened to on the radio, The Times reported. The two were wed in a ceremony held in in the prison’s visiting room on Aug. 9, 1989, according to the paper.
"Just Mercy" opens in limited release on Christmas Day, and hits theaters everywhere on Jan. 10. Watch a trailer here.
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