Films, Books, and Theatre

New Releases

“One for Ten” is an online series of films that were produced and broadcast over five weeks in April and May of 2013. During that time, a team of four traveled the width of the US and interviewed ten individuals who have been freed from death row. Each of the films profiles a major issue in wrongful convictions highlighted through an individual case. The series includes Clarence Brandley, a Texas death row exonoree. http://www.oneforten.com/

Films

“48 Hours: Grave Injustice.” The Emmy Award winning episode presents the story of Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison, including 12.5 years on death row, for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated in October 2010 and now serves as a motivational speaker and legal consultant. Watch the episode online: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363660n

“Incendiary.” Described as “equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama,” the new documentary film “Incendiary” focuses on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by the State of Texas in 2004.  At least nine fire experts have questioned the evidence used to convict him of arson, and the case created quite a stir within the Texas Forensic Science Commission.  Available through itunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/incendiary-willingham-case/id499126193

“Into the Abyss.” We do not know when and how we will die. Death Row inmates do. Werner Herzog embarks on a dialogue with Death Row inmates, asks questions about life and death and looks deep into these individuals, their stories, their crimes.  A 105 min. documentary about two death row inmates in the USA. Conversations have been filmed at Polunsky Unit in Livingston/Texas and Huntsville/Texas with Michael Perry (who was executed eight days after the conversation), and Jason Burkett. Available through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Into-Abyss-Werner-Herzog/dp/B006Z7Z3L8

“Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti.”  This documentary, produced by Texas Defender Service, in association with Off Center Media, chronicles the case of Scott Panetti, who was sentenced to death in Texas despite a long, documented history of paranoid schizophrenia.  The film is a compelling portrait of the impact that Panetti’s mental illness – and his death sentence – has had on his family.  2007.  27 minutes.  Available on DVD from TCADP or online at  http://blip.tv/off-center-media/executing-the-insane-the-case-of-scott-panetti-287135  *Discussion guide available from TCADP

“70X7 the Forgiveness Equation.” 70X7 the Forgiveness Equation thrusts viewers into the turmoil between two sisters, Sue Norton and Maudie Hills, whose responses in the aftermath of their parents murder varied widely. The film also relives the horrific Oklahoma City terrorist attack in which Bud Welch’s young daughter was killed. His story reveals the unorthodox relationship with the father of the convicted killer, Timothy Mcveigh. These are the stories and their struggles speaking for themselves, these individuals shared how they coped with unforeseen bereavement, profound feelings of helplessness, rage and revenge, and, for some a move towards reconciliation and forgiveness. 70X7 derives its title from scripture: “Peter asked Jesus how many times shall I forgive someone who harms me? Seven times?” And Jesus answered, “no Peter, not seven times but 70X7 times.” (Mathew 18:21-22)  DVD available on loan from TCADP.

“At the Death House Door.”  This documentary film is from award-winning Directors Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and Peter Gilbert.  The story is told through the eyes of Pastor Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the Texas death house chaplain to the infamous “Walls” prison unit in Huntsville, TX. During Pickett’s remarkable career and personal journey, he witnessed over 95 executions, including the world’s first lethal injection. After each execution, Pickett recorded an audiotape account of his trip to the death chamber.  The film includes the story of Carlos De Luna, a death row inmate who Pickett counseled and whose execution troubled him more than any other as he firmly believed De Luna was innocent.   The film tracks the investigative efforts of a team of Chicago Tribune reporters who have turned up evidence that strongly suggests that De Luna in fact might have been wrongfully executed. 2008.  98 minutes.  DVD available on loan from TCADP.  *Discussion Guide available from TCADP

“Balancing the Scales.” This film provides a careful examination of the death penalty process in Texas and highlights the following issues: ineffective legal counsel, police and prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias, innocence, and mental illness. Available in VHS and DVD from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP). 2002. 55 min. *Study guide available from TCADP

“A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” Based on the U.S. Bishops’ 2005 statement of the same name, this film explores the Church’s stand on the use, effectiveness, and necessity of the death penalty and offers guidance to parishes that wish to address the issue. 2006. 15 minutes. Available in VHS/DVD from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for $9.95.  Watch the video online. *Discussion guide available at www.usccbpublishing.org

“Dead Man Walking.” This acclaimed film traces the relationship between a death row inmate and the nun to whom he turns for spiritual guidance in the days leading up to his scheduled execution. Based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean. 1995. 122 min. Available from any film rental store. *Discussion guide available from TCADP

“Inside Death Row.” A National Geographic documentary about life on Texas death row from the perspectives of the death row inmates, prison staff, families, last meal chef, attorneys and others. http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/national-geographic-channel/full-episodes/explorer/ngc-inside-death-row/

“The Empty Chair.” This film is a balanced and compelling portrayal of four families that have lost a loved one to murder and must confront their notions of revenge, forgiveness, and healing. It includes commentary by Sister Helen Prejean. This film is particularly useful for audiences that hold mixed opinions on the death penalty or groups that have not addressed the issue before. 2003. 52 min. www.justiceproductions.org. Available on loan from TCADP.  *Discussion guide available from TCADP

“The Exonerated.” Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover star in this film, which is based upon the stage play of the same name. Actual court depositions, transcripts, letters, and interviews comprise the chilling and moving script that chronicles the stories of six wrongly convicted death row inmates. 2005. 90 minutes. Available on loan from TCADP or for purchase at http://www.tcadp.org/store.php. *Discussion guide available from TCADP

“Interview with an Executioner.” This documentary goes behind the scenes in a Mississippi Penitentiary during the 14 days leading up to the execution of Edward Earl Johnson. Don Cabana, the executioner, recounts the chilling experience of the execution of Johnson, who maintained his innocence until the end with his final words – “I want you to know exactly what you are doing when you execute me. I want you to remember every last detail, ‘cause I am innocent.” Available in VHS or DVD with $5 donation to TCADP. Also available in Spanish.

“Juan Melendez-6446.” Juan Roberto Melendez colon spent 6,446 days on death row in Florida for a crime he did not commit. Juan Melendez-6446 exposes a legal system where wrongful convictions are a reality with stark human consequences. Produced both in Spanish and English by the Civil Rights Commission of Puerto Rico, this short film provides an excellent opportunity to spark discussion about the legal system and death penalty in the United Sates.  DVDs are available on loan from TCADP.

“Our Faith, Our Case Against the Death Penalty.” Produced by the Diocese of Beaumont (TX), this video includes footage of Texas death row and comments by Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, Beaumont Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD, and Deacon Al O’Brien, now retired director of the Diocese’s Office of Criminal Justice Ministry. 10 minutes. VHS available from the Diocese’s Office of Criminal Justice Ministry: criminaljustice@dioceseofbmt.org or (409) 838-0451, ext. 151. *Includes an eight-page study guide.

Books

Atwood, David. Detour to Death Row. peaceCENTER Books, 2008. David Atwood – a retired oil company engineer, committed Christian, student of nonviolence and tireless activist – tells his st his 15-year effort to abolish the death penalty in Texas. It is also the story of the people he met on his journey: men and women on death row, their families, the families of the victims, and fellow death penalty activists across the globe. It is the story of a failed system of retribution and a story of hope that there is a better way of justice.

“Dave Atwood’s Detour to Death Row is an incredible journey which shows what can happen to a person who allows God to enter his life and lead him on different path. Who would have thought that an engineer working for an oil company would one day be leading the fight to abolish the death penalty in the state which leads the nation in executions? Dave’s story is an inspiration to me, personally, and to anyone who believes in the sanctity of all human life.” Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking (Random House, 1993) and The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions (Random House, 2004)

Cahill, Thomas.  A SAINT ON DEATH ROW: The Story of Dominique Green.   Doubleday, 2009. A portion of the author’s proceeds from book sales will benefit the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty  Buy the Book!  On October 26, 2004, Dominique Green, thirty, was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas. Arrested at the age of eighteen in the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery outside a Houston convenience store, Green may have taken part in the robbery but always insisted that he did not pull the trigger. The jury, which had no African Americans on it, sentenced him to death. Despite obvious errors in the legal procedures and the protests of the victim’s family, he spent the last twelve years of his life on Death Row.  When Cahill found himself in Texas in December 2003, he visited Dominique at the request of Judge Sheila Murphy, who was working on the appeal of the case. In Dominique, he encountered a level of goodness, peace, and enlightenment that few human beings ever attain. Cahill joined the fierce fight for Dominique’s life, even enlisting Dominique’s hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to make an historic visit to Dominique and to plead publicly for mercy. Cahill was so profoundly moved by Dominique’s extraordinary life that he was compelled to tell the tragic story of his unjust death at the hands of the state.

Cheever, Joan. Back from the Dead: One Woman’s Search for the Men Who Walked Off America’s Death Row. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2006. A compelling account of attorney, journalist, and San Antonio native Joan Cheever’s search for the men whose lives were spared when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972. This book explores their potential for rehabilitation and illustrates what can happen when convicted murderers are given a second chance at life. Visit www.backfromthedeadusa.com for more information.

Cook, Kerry Max. Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn’t Commit. William Morrow, 2007. A harrowing firsthand account from Kerry Max Cook, who was wrongfully convicted and spent 22 years on death row in Texas before his release in 1999. His case is said to be one of the most egregious examples of police and prosecutorial misconduct in American history. Visit www.chasingjustice.com for more information.

David Dow, The Autobiography of an Execution, captures the author’s personal and legal experiences in representing over 100 inmates on death row. The book is a personal memoir of Dow’s encounter with the death penalty system, as he represents defendants and witnesses their executions. Publisher’s Weekly called the book “sobering, gripping and candid.”  Dahlia Lithwick of Slate said it is “a powerful collage of the life of a death penalty lawyer,” in a NY Times book review (Feb. 14, 2010).  (D. Dow, “The Autobiography of an Execution,” Twelve Publishers 2010).

Dow, David. Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America’s Death Row. Beacon Press, 2005. Texas attorney David Dow’s eye-opening book allows his clients and their cases to speak for themselves. Through these accounts, he chronicles how his own position on the death penalty changed in favor of abolition. Dow is the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network and is a professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center.

King, Rachel. Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty. Rutgers University Press, 2003. King’s book is a collection of the wrenching accounts of individuals whose lives have been torn apart by murder but who oppose the death penalty, often working to save the life of their loved one’s killer. These narratives intend to promote restorative justice, despite grief and the temptation for revenge. The book addresses the question of how one can move past the unforgettable and seemingly unforgivable.

Pickett, Carrol and Carlton Stowers. Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain. St. Martin’s Press, 2002. This is the powerful memoir of Rev. Carroll Pickett, who spent fifteen years as the death house chaplain at “The Walls,” the Huntsville unit of the Texas prison system.

Prejean, Helen. Dead Man Walking. Random House, New York, 1993. A Catholic nun’s impassioned memoir of her friendship with two death-row inmates in Louisiana, coupled with a plea for the abolition of capital punishment.

Audio

Witness to an Execution. A Sound Portraits Production, 2000. Bears witness to the impact that participation in the execution process has on those involved, particularly the prison personnel and witnesses. It takes the listener step by step through executions as they occur in the death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. The tape and CD are available at: http://www.soundportraits.org/on-air/witness_to_an_execution/.

Theatrical Productions

Dead Man Walking: The Play
This stage play is based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book of the same title. You can stage a full production or read excerpts from various parts of the play. Visit www.dmwplay.org for more information and to request materials.The Eye and Tooth Project Part 2 is the second round of a project created by John Sullivan for Amnesty International 23, Houston.  Part 2 deals exclusively with the death penalty.  http://www.amnestyhouston.org/eyetooth.pdf

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