In a Louisiana assisted-living home in 1999, Paul Edgecomb begins to cry while watching the film Top Hat. His companion Elaine becomes concerned, and Paul explains to her that the film reminded him of the events of 1935, which took place when he was a prison officer, in charge of death row, what they refer to as the “Green Mile”.
In 1935, Paul supervises officers Brutus Howell, Dean Stanton, Harry Terwilliger, and Percy Wetmore at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Paul is suffering from a severe bladder infection and receives John Coffey, a physically imposing but mentally challenged black man, into his custody. John had been sentenced to death after being convicted of raping and murdering two white girls. One of the other inmates is a Native-American named Arlen Bitterbuck, who is charged with murder and is the first to be executed. Percy demonstrates a severe sadistic streak, but, as the nephew of Louisiana’s First Lady, he is beyond reproach. He is particularly abusive with inmate Eduard Delacroix; he breaks Del’s fingers with his baton, steps on a pet mouse named Mr. Jingles, which Del had adopted, repeatedly calls him by a gay slur, and ultimately sabotages his execution by failing to soak the sponge used to conduct electricity to Del’s head; Del dies screaming in pain.