Former white supremacist credits public defender with changing his perspective

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A former self-proclaimed white supremacist says he credits a Memphis attorney with changing his perspective and freeing him from his racist ways.

"Handel is a big part of my life, because he stood between me and jail," Scott Shepherd said. He's talking about Attorney Handel Durham Jr. When Durham was assigned to be Shepherd's public defender, Shepherd says he thought he hated black people. He called himself a white supremacist who took pride in his rank in the Ku Klux Klan.

"When I met Handel and looked at him, shook his hand, he was black. I said, 'Oh my God. I'm not getting out of this," Shepherd said. He thought once Durham took a look at his background, there's no way he'd give the case his all. "He's not going to represent me at all like he should, but I was wrong. Handel showed me love and respect, and defended me."

Shepherd reached out to us and asked if we'd coordinate a meeting with the man who changed his life two decades ago. "Handel did what he did, and it started changing my perspective. He was black, and these were the people I was condemning."

Before the reunion, he choked back tears. "I'm nervous, I'm a little emotional."

When we asked Durham what inspired him to help Shepherd he said, "To be quite frank, I didn't see it in Scott at all." He never believed Shepherd was racist to begin with. He thinks he was just confused and misguided. And though he was criticized for his choice to do the right thing, he let nothing change his mind.

The two have kept in touch over the years. But Wednesday was the first time they've reunited.

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