On this page you’ll find an expansive list of popular media on the topic of the death penalty and other criminal justice issues. The list includes feature-length and short films, documentaries, television series, TedTalks, books, and podcasts.
- “The Innocence Files” on Netflix, especially Episode 8
- “True Conviction” – available to stream for free on PBS through July 26, 2020
Film and Television
“A Broken Promise in Texas: Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case.” This video highlights the racial discrimination in the Texas death penalty system and the shocking case of Duane Buck. Buck was sentenced to death in 1997 in Harris County (Houston), Texas, after his trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Buck was more likely to be dangerous because he is black. Produced by award-winning documentary filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, “A Broken Promise in Texas” contains powerful, never-before-seen interviews with Texas civil rights leaders, elected politicians, the surviving victim in the case, one of Buck’s trial prosecutors, and Buck’s family members, all of whom called for a new, fair sentencing hearing. [Note: In October 2017, Buck’s death sentence was reduced to a life sentence plus two 60-year terms.] 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD6WWN38ZGc
“#DeathPenaltyFail: A Conservative Concern.” Pat Monks, a proud Texan Republican, meets a number of conservatives who have first-hand experience with the death penalty process. He also meets with the latest innocent man to be exonerated from death row in Texas, Alfred Dewayne Brown. http://deathpenaltyfail.org/index.php/deathpenaltyfail-a-conservative-concern/. 2016. [Other short films are also available at http://deathpenaltyfail.org/.]
“A Plea for Justice: Why Texas Will be Executing an Innocent Man.” This ongoing, multi-part documentary series examines the facts and evidence in the case of Rodney Reed, who faced execution by the State of Texas on November 20, 2019 (he received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on November 15). https://vimeo.com/filmmakersforjustice
Video clips related to Christopher Young, executed by the State of Texas on July 17, 2018. Young was executed for the 2004 robbery and murder of Hasmukh Patel in San Antonio. He was 21 years old at the time of the crime. In the 12 years he spent on death row, he educated himself, became grounded in his religion, was active in raising his daughters, and mentored troubled young men. He expressed deep remorse for killing Mr. Patel. Mr. Patel’s son, Mitesh, did not want Young to be killed, stating that he did not want Young’s children to grow up without a father like he and Chris did. He filmed a powerful piece for Now This News:
Mitesh Patel Works to Save Texas Death Row Inmate Chris Young from Execution | NowThis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9RRZnzKvlo
Filmmaker Laurence Thrush produced a number of interviews with Young, his family members, and other individuals involved in his case: #SaveChrisYoung: Christopher Young Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odwlrjvQj88
#SaveChrisYoung: Being a Father on Death Row: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRrnWjkWxiE
#SaveChrisYoung: Meet the Artist and Father Texas Plans to Kill on July 17: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofP6HwJTiT4
#SaveChrisYoung: Crishelle Young: I Don’t Want My Father to Die: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-2bmo4a5Vk
Chris Young: This Fight Don’t Stop with Me http://lawatthemargins.com/this-fight-dont-stop-with-me-chris-young-encourages-us-to-continue-our-fight-against-death-penalty/
“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 in Texas, 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: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/grave-injustice-3/
“Death Row Stories.” An HLN original series that explores the fallibility of capital punishment. Told by current and former death row inmates, each episode of “Death Row Stories” seeks to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case and poses tough questions about the U.S. death penalty system. Through your cable provider, you may be able to catch the most recent season, which includes an episode entitled “Two Brothers,” the story of two North Carolina brothers who were wrongfully sentenced to death for the murder of an 11-year-old girl.
“On Death Row.” This eight-episode miniseries comes from Director Werner Herzog, who also directed the documentary “Into the Abyss.” Herzog takes viewers inside a maximum security prison in Texas and interviews inmates who have been sentenced to death. 2013. Season 1: 1, 2, 3, 4. Season 2: 1, 2, 3, 4
“The Innocence Files,” a new docuseries from Netflix released on April 15, 2020, focuses on the cases of individuals who were wrongfully convicted on the basis of junk science, flawed eyewitness identification, or prosecutorial misconduct. Episode 8: “The Prosecution: Hidden Alibi” tells the story of Alfred Dewayne Brown, who was exonerated in 2015 after serving more than a decade on death row in Texas for a crime he did not commit. Film critic Brian Tallerico, the Editor of RogerEbert.com, says “Equally moving, informative, and infuriating, Netflix’s ‘The Innocence Files’ is one of the best true crime series ever made.” We agree!
Dramas and Feature Films
“Clemency.” Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams (played by Alfre Woodard). As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. 1h 52min. 2019. Available to rent or buy on Amazon.
“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. 2h 2min. 1995. Available to rent or buy on Amazon.
“Just Mercy.” This movie follows Bryan Stevenson, an acclaimed civil rights defense attorney. After taking on the Alabama death penalty case of Walter McMillian, Stevenson becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them. The film is adapted from the best-selling memoir of the same name and stars Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. 2h 16min. 2019. Learn more at https://www.justmercyfilm.com.
“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. https://vimeo.com/299952643
“Trial by Fire.” The film tells the true Texas story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death in 1991 after being convicted of setting fire to his Corsicana home that killed his three young daughters. The film is based upon David Grann’s article about Willingham’s case, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2009. “Trial by Fire” stars Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell. 2018. 2h 7min. Available to rent or buy on Amazon.
“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. https://vimeo.com/25002774 (The DVD is available from TCADP.)
“The Empty Chair.” This film is a balanced and compelling portrayal of four families who 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. https://www.amazon.com/The-Empty-Chair-Death-Penalty/dp/B003BIDBLS (The DVD is available from TCADP.)
“Executing the Insane.” This documentary, produced by the 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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUNjW61yrJM (The DVD is available from TCADP.)
“Incendiary.” Described as “equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama,” the 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. http://incendiarymovie.com/watch_now.html
“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. The outcome is a documentary about two death row inmates in the USA. Conversations were filmed at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas and in Huntsville, Texas with Michael Perry (who was executed eight days later) and Jason Burkett. 2011. 107 minutes. https://youtu.be/Bu6WP7v7KRo
“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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDleJP8vjwE
“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. http://www.lastdayoffreedom.net/
“Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2.” For 20 years, Lindy Lou Isonhood has lived with an unbearable feeling of guilt. Committed to fulfilling her civic duty, she sat on a jury that handed down the death penalty to a Mississippi man convicted in a double homicide. When Bobby Wilcher was executed in 2006, Lindy had been his only visitor in 15 years. Determined to understand the overwhelming regret that she has been grappling with for years, Lindy takes off on a road trip across Mississippi to track down and learn more about her fellow jurors, who were tasked with deciding the fate of a man’s life all those years earlier. Lindy, a conservative, religious woman from the South, manages to tackle this oft-politicized topic with humor, an open mind and sincere curiosity. Available from TCADP, upon request. 2017. 85 minutes.
“The Penalty.” This compelling documenary film follows three people caught in the crosshairs of capital punishment and the political landscape that could decide their fate. Going behind the scenes of some of the biggest headlines in the history of America’s death penalty, the film follows the lethal injection protocol crisis that resulted in a botched execution; the rehabilitation of a man who spent 15 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit; and the family of a young woman who was brutally murdered and must confront the state’s pursuit of the ultimate punishment. 2017. 86 minutes. https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B07V3P2PN1
“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 exoneree. 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. https://www.amazon.com/Thin-Blue-Line-Randall-Adams/dp/B001D6LJIW/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+thin+blue+line&qid=1570478010&s=instant-video&sr=1-1
“True Conviction.” After serving a combined sixty years in prison for crimes they did not commit, Texas exonerees Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey and Steven Phillips form the unlikeliest of investigative teams – helping wrongfully convicted prisoners obtain freedom. In this hard-boiled yet rousing documentary, brotherly bonds are formed out of life-or-death circumstances. 2018. 84 minutes. https://www.amazon.com/True-Conviction-Christopher-Scott/dp/B078WFTYH8/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=true+conviction&qid=1570477991&s=instant-video&sr=1-1
“True Justice: Bryan Stevenson.” For more than three decades, Alabama public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has advocated on behalf of the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned, seeking to eradicate racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. An intimate portrait of this remarkable man, “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality” follows his struggle to create greater fairness in the system. It also shows how racial injustice emerged, evolved, and continues to threaten the country. 2019. 101 minutes. https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/true-justice-bryan-stevensons-fight-for-equality
Dow, David. “Lessons from Death Row Inmates.” What happens before a murder? In looking for ways to reduce death penalty cases, David R. Dow realized that a surprising number of death row inmates had similar biographies. In this talk he proposes a bold plan, one that prevents murders in the first place. 2012. 18 minutes. https://www.ted.com/talks/david_r_dow_lessons_from_death_row_inmates (Look for descriptions of David’s books below.)
Isonhood, Lindy Lou. “A Juror’s Reflections on the Death Penalty.” Lindy Lou Isonhood grew up in a town where the death penalty was a fact of life, part of the unspoken culture. But after she served as a juror in a capital murder trial — and voted “yes” to sentencing a guilty man to death — something inside her changed. In this engaging and personal talk, Isonhood reflects on the question she’s been asking herself in the 25 years since the trial: Am I a murderer? 2018. 16 minutes. https://www.ted.com/talks/lindy_lou_isonhood_a_juror_s_reflections_on_the_death_penalty (See also “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2” in the Documentaries section.)
Stevenson, Bryan. “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.” In this widely-viewed talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness. 2012. 23 minutes. https://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice (See also “Just Mercy” in the Coming Soon and Book sections.)
“The State of Texas vs. Melissa” recently premiered as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. It tells the story of Melissa Lucio, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Cameron County in 2008. She is one of 6 women on death row in Texas. In July 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted Lucio a new trial, finding she was denied the right to present expert testimony to the jury. The State of Texas appealed that decision and now the full court will reconsider her case. In an interview with Variety, filmmaker Sabrina Van Tassel says she was moved by Lucio’s “extreme solitude and despair as she had not seen her children in more than a decade.” Watch the trailer.
“Where There is Darkness.” This documentary tells the story of Father Rene Robert and his plea from beyond the grave to save the life of the man who murdered him. It has not been released publicly yet but more details about the film are available on the Where There is Darkness website.
Bishop, Jeanne. Grace from the Rubble – Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation After the Oklahoma City Bombing. Zondervan, 2020.
April 19, 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which took 168 lives. This new book explores the relationship between two fathers forever changed by that terrible day: Timothy McVeigh’s father, Bill, and Bud Welch, the father of Julie, who was killed in the bombing. Author Jeanne Bishop, who is also a victim survivor, says: “I wanted to tell this story as a way of showing how you can respond to evil—not with hatred and vengeance, but with redemption.”
Cheever, Joan M. Back From The Dead: One Woman’s Search for the Men Who Walked off America’s Death Row. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2006. During the years she represented Walter Williams on Texas’ death row, Cheever always wondered what would happen if his death sentence was reversed and he was eventually released from prison. Would he have killed again? Two years after Williams’ execution, Cheever was determined to find the answer. Leaving her young family and comfortable life in suburbia, she traveled across the U.S. and into the lives and homes of former death row inmates, armed only with a tape recorder, notepad, a cell phone that didn’t always work, and a lot of faith. In Back from the Dead, Cheever describes her own journey and reveals these tales of second chances: of tragedy and failure, racism and injustice, and redemption and rehabilitation.
Graves, Anthony. Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul. Beacon Press, 2018. Anthony Graves spent 16 years in solitary confinement and 12 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. Graves had no links to the crime and an airtight alibi, yet a Texas jury convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Graves is one of a growing number of innocent people exonerated from death row. The moving account of his saga—of his ultimate fight for freedom from inside a prison cell—is as haunting as it is poignant, and as shameful to the legal system as it is inspiring to those on the losing end of it.
Grisham, John. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Doubleday, 2006. In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory. Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits—drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa. In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder. With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row. If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.
Liebman, James and the Columbia DeLuna Project. The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution. Columbia University Press, 2014. In 1989, Texas executed Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with childlike intelligence, for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk. This book documents DeLuna’s conviction, which was based on a single, nighttime, cross-ethnic eyewitness identification with no corroborating forensic evidence. At his trial, DeLuna’s defense, that another man named Carlos had committed the crime, was not taken seriously. In upholding the death penalty on appeal, both the state and federal courts concluded the same thing: Carlos Hernandez did not exist. The evidence the Columbia team uncovered reveals that Hernandez not only existed but was well known to the police and prosecutors. DeLuna’s execution passed unnoticed for years until a team of Columbia Law School faculty and students almost accidentally chose to investigate his case and found that DeLuna almost certainly was innocent. (See also “At the Death House Door” in the film section above.)
Manghan, Finbar. The Mysterious Story of Gitano Cervantes: Vignettes of Life (and Death) under a Broken System of Criminal Justice. Archway Publishing, 2014. The United States imprisons more than two million men and women in federal prisons and city, county, and state jails. More than 150,000 individuals are incarcerated in each of the states of California and Texas. Author Finbar Manghan, who has served as a volunteer prison chaplain, looks at the cases of five men who have been prison residents for a combined period of seventy years. Two are white, two are black, and one is Hispanic. Three of them claim to be innocent, while two admit their guilt; the sentences of the latter are such that they will almost certainly die in prison. One is innocent beyond any reasonable doubt. The experiences of all of them have been tragic. The Mysterious Story of Gitano Cervantes addresses a host of issues related to the men’s stories, including false imprisonment, medical mistreatment, misrepresentation of self due to life’s humiliations, mental harassment, medical bungling, and betrayal. Manghan reviews the court and prison experiences of these men and explores the need for reform throughout the criminal justice system in America.
Planque, Caroline. Until Death Do Us Part examines the realities of capital punishment through the testimonies of dozens of people impacted by the death penalty in Texas, including attorneys, victim survivors, and family members of individuals on death row. It includes a foreword by Sister Helen Prejean and is available online. 2020.
Prejean, Helen. The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. Vintage, 2005. From the author of the national bestseller Dead Man Walking comes a brave and fiercely argued book that tests the moral edge of the debate on capital punishment: What if we’re executing innocent men? Two cases in point are Dobie Gillis Williams, an indigent black man with an IQ of 65, and Joseph Roger O’Dell. Both were convicted of murder on flimsy evidence (O’Dell’s principal accuser was a jailhouse informant who later recanted his testimony). Both were executed in spite of numerous appeals. Sister Helen Prejean watched both of them die. As she recounts these men’s cases and takes us through their terrible last moments, Prejean brilliantly dismantles the legal and religious arguments that have been used to justify the death penalty.
Solar, Susan Lee Campbell. No Justice: No Victory, the Death Penalty in Texas. Plain View Press, 2004. This book examines capital punishment in Texas through a political lens and with a concentration on cases and anecdotes that illustrate the systemic flaws Solar uncovered during her research. The book, completed by friends and family of the author after she died unexpectedly, features interviews with attorneys, judges and law professors, as well as with those on death row, their family members, and families of murder victims. It closely examines the cases of Gary Graham and Odell Barnes, Jr., who were executed despite strong evidence of innocence. It also reviews the case of Larry Robison, who was executed despite the fact that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was repeatedly turned away from mental health facilities because he wasn’t considered violent. A crime victim herself, Solar used her research to examine the post civil war history of capital punishment in Texas and how this flawed system has been used by politicians for political gain.
Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy. Random House, 2014. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Stolarz, Brian. Grace and Justice on Death Row: The Race against Time and Texas to Free and Innocent Man. Skyhorse Publishing, 2016. This book tells the story of Alfred Dewayne Brown, a man who spent over twelve years in prison (ten of them on Texas’ infamous death row) for a high-profile crime he did not commit, and his lawyer, Brian Stolarz, who dedicated his career and life to secure his freedom. The book chronicles Brown’s extraordinary journey to freedom against very long odds, overcoming unscrupulous prosecutors, corrupt police, inadequate defense counsel, and a broken criminal justice system. The book examines how a lawyer-client relationship turned into one of brotherhood.
Dow, David. Confessions of an Innocent Man: A Novel. Dutton, 2019. Rafael Zhettah relishes the simplicity and freedom of his life. He is the owner and head chef of a promising Houston restaurant, a pilot with open access to the boundless Texas horizon, and a bachelor, content with having few personal or material attachments that ground him. Then, lightning strikes. When he finds Tieresse—billionaire, philanthropist, sophisticate, bombshell—sitting at one of his tables, he also finds his soul mate and his life starts again. And just as fast, when she is brutally murdered in their home, when he is convicted of the crime, when he is sentenced to die, it is all ripped away. But for Rafael Zhettah, death row is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now, with his recaptured freedom, he will stop at nothing to deliver justice to those who stole everything from him.
Grisham, John. The Confession. Doubleday, 2010. For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed. Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row. Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?
Van Soest, Dorothy. Just Mercy. Apprentice House, 2014. Bernadette Baker lives through every mother’s worst nightmare when her adopted sixteen-year-old daughter, Veronica, is brutally murdered in a shocking and random act of violence. Ten years later the murderer, Raelynn Blackwell, is facing execution for her crime, and despite being united in their grief over Veronica, the Baker family is deeply divided on the subject of the death penalty. When a shocking discovery threatens to tear the family apart, each of them is forced to face their conflicting reactions.
Claiborne, Shane. Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why it’s Killing Us. HarperOne, 2016. The Bible says an eye for an eye. But is the state’s taking of a life true—or even practical—punishment for convicted prisoners? In this thought-provoking work, Shane Claiborne explores the issue of the death penalty and the contrast between punitive justice and restorative justice, questioning our notions of fairness, revenge, and absolution. Using an historical lens to frame his argument, Claiborne draws on testimonials and examples from Scripture to show how the death penalty is not the ideal of justice that many believe. Not only is a life lost, so too, is the possibility of mercy and grace. In Executing Grace, he reminds us of the divine power of forgiveness, and evokes the fundamental truth of the Gospel—that no one, even a criminal, is beyond redemption.
Osler, Mark. Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment. Abingdon Press, 2009. Jesus was a prisoner on death row. If that statement surprises you, consider this fact: of all the roles that Jesus played–preacher, teacher, healer, mentor, friend–none features as prominently in the gospels as this one: a criminal indicted and convicted of a capital offense. From the use of paid informants to the conflicting testimony of witnesses to the denial of clemency, the elements in the story of Jesus’ trial mirror the most common components in capital cases today. How might we see capital punishment in this country differently if we realized that the system used to condemn the Son of God to death so closely resembles the system we use in capital cases today? Should the experience of Jesus’ trial, conviction, and execution give us pause as we take similar steps to place individuals on death row today?
Recinella, Dale S. Now I Walk on Death Row. Chosen Books, 2011. As one of the most influential finance lawyers in the country, Dale Recinella was living the American dream. With prestige, power, and unthinkable paychecks at his fingertips, his life was perfect. . . at least on paper. But on the heels of closing a huge deal for the Miami Dolphins, Dale’s life took an unfathomable turn. He heard and heeded Jesus’s call to sell everything he owned and follow him. Thus began a radical quest to live out the words of Jesus no matter what the cost. In this quick paced, well-written story, Recinella shares his amazing journey from growing up in the slums of Detroit to racing through “the good life” on Wall Street to finally walking the humble path of God the path of ministry on death row.
The Appeal Podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson, focuses on the most important criminal justice stories of the week and features reporters, lawyers, activists, analysts, and those personally affected by the American legal system. https://theappeal.org/topics/the-appeal-podcast/
“Behind the Walls.” “Behind the Walls” is an insider view beyond the razor wire and red tape of the Texas criminal justice system. Houston Chronicle reporter and ex-con Keri Blakinger and former Texas prison union president Lance Lowry explore jails, prisons, and the darkest places in criminal justice. Houston Chronicle, 2019. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/behind-the-walls/id1446352322
“Dead Man Talking” explores whether Angel Resendiz aka “The Railroad Killer,” who was executed by the State of Texas in 2006, was responsible for other murders – murders to which he purportedly confessed. Journalist Alex Hannaford explores the evidence and the implications, with 17 episodes released in 2018-2019.
Death Penalty Information Center Podcasts. These podcasts cover three different types of death penalty issues. DPIC’s current monthly podcast series is called “Discussions With DPIC,” in which staff members speak with death penalty experts about timely death penalty developments in the news. The “On the Issues” podcast series explores different factual, legal, and ethical topics relating to capital punishment. A third series of podcasts details the history of capital punishment in each state. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/resources/podcasts
“Everything is Stories: 018 These Executions.” Michelle Lyons witnessed over 270 executions, starting when she began reporting for the Huntsville Item, the newspaper in the town where Texas executions are carried out, at age 22. In this episode, Lyons shares her experience and her opinion on the role of the press in reporting on executions. [Note: This episode contains detailed descriptions of executions.] Mike Martinez and Tyler Wray, 2015. http://www.eisradio.org/item/018/
“Finality Over Justice.” Two men are tried and convicted for the same crime by the same prosecutor. Is this an aberration? This podcast takes a closer look at two cases—Joseph B. Nichols and Thomas M. Thompson—and the fight for truth and justice. Does the criminal justice system focus on finality at the expense of justice? This podcast features TCADP’s Executive Director, Kristin Houle. EPF Media, 2019. https://www.practicalreasonpodcast.com/
“In the Dark Season 2.” Curtis Flowers has been tried six times for the same crime. For 21 years, he has maintained his innocence. He’s won appeal after appeal, but every time, the prosecutor just tries the case again. What does the evidence reveal? And why does the justice system ignore the prosecutor’s record and keep Flowers on death row? Hosted by Madeleine Baran with American Public Media, 2018.
“Justice in America,” hosted by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith, is a podcast for everyone interested in criminal justice reform. Episode 24, released on March 18, 2020, focuses on the death penalty.
“Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom.” Based on the files of the lawyers who freed them, “Wrongful Conviction” features interviews with men and women who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit – some of them had even been sentenced to death. Highlighted episodes: The Wrongful Conviction of Michael Morton; Live at SXSW With the San Antonio Four.Total Market Podcasts, 2019. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/wrongful-conviction-with-jason-flom/id1151670380