Film and Television
“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
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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. 2011. 99 minutes.
“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. 2011. 107 minutes.
“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. 2008. 50 minutes.
“The Last 40 Miles.” This film focuses on an inmate’s last journey from Livingston to Huntsville and his interactions with a compassionate guard. Utilizing several groundbreaking animation techniques, the film forces viewers to confront the death penalty from a unique perspective. 2014. 14 minutes.
“Last Day of Freedom.” When Bill Babbitt realizes his brother Manny has committed a crime he agonizes over his decision- should he call the police? Last Day of Freedom, a richly animated personal narrative, tells the story of Bill’s decision to stand by his brother in the face of war, crime and capital punishment. The film is a portrait of a man at the nexus of the most pressing social issues of our day – veterans’ care, mental health access and criminal justice. 2015. 32 minutes.
“One for Ten.” This 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/
“The Thin Blue Line.” In 1976, Randall Adams was wrongly sentenced to death for the murder of a Dallas policeman. Errol Morris’ stunning documentary exposed the truth of the case and is credited with overturning Adams’ conviction. 1988. 103 minutes.
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.
Cahill, Thomas. A SAINT ON DEATH ROW: The Story of Dominique Green. Doubleday, 2009. 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 a 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.
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.
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.
Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Spiegel & Grau, 2014. A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.