“Death Row Stories” is a new 8-part series premiering on March 9 on CNN that will examine actual death penalty cases.
The show is produced by Robert Redford and narrated by Dead Man Walking star Susan Sarandon.
Redford said, “This series is about the search for justice and truth, we are pleased to … tell these important stories and give a voice to these cases.”
Prior to the premiere, CNN is offering interested parties an opportunity for a preview and the ability to participate in a Google Hangout featuring a discussion by the producers and law professors John Blume of Cornell and Robert Blecker of New York Law School. The Google Hangout will be held March 5 at 6 pm EST and is open to the public, but an RSVP is required.
Film Synopsis: Rodney Reed was convicted of raping and killing 19 year-old Stacey Stites in May of 1998 and sentenced to death. Many observers felt Reed’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice, and that the evidence points to another killer — Stites’ fiancé and Giddings, TX police officer Jimmy Fennell Jr. This documentary explores the evidence involved in the case and the context of the trial that led to Reed’s death sentence.
This independently produced documentary premiered at the SXSW 2006 Film Festival in Austin, TX and has since played extensively throughout the U.S. at festivals and universities.
FACT UPDATE: In 2008, Officer Fennell pled guilty to kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in custody and sentenced to 10 years in Jail. In 2012, former Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo made dramatic ‘clarifications’ of his original testimony, including proffering that there was no evidence that Reed’s semen found on the victim “was placed there in any other fashion other than consensually”. In Fall 2012, Reed’s Federal Appeal was denied. In November 2013, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the final point of relief prior to setting an execution date, agreed to hear oral arguments from Reed’s defense. The hearing is set for Dec. 4, 2013.
Directors/Producers: Ryan Polomski and Frank Bustoz
Nancy Mullane, a reporter for KALW Radio in San Francisco, is one of the few reporters to visit California‘s death row at San Quentin Prison. In the block she visited, there were 500 inmates, in 4-by-10 foot cells, stacked five tiers high. The cells are about the size of a walk-in closet. Many of the inmates have been on death row for over 20 years. Inmates can shower every other day. One of the inmates she met with, Justin Helzer, had stabbed himself in both eyes. He later committed suicide. California has the largest death row in the country with 727 inmates. No one has been executed in 7 years. Listen to the full segment here.
new animated film, The Last 40 Miles, will follow a death row inmate on his final journey from the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, to the death chamber in Huntsville. The film uses three forms of animation to tell the inmate’s story, from his tragic childhood to the moment he is being escorted to the lethal injection chamber. The script was written by freelance journalist Alex Hannaford and is based on interviews he conducted with death row inmates for news stories. Hannaford described why he used the metaphor of the trip to the death chamber: “It struck me a long time ago that this was the last thing these men see as they’re escorted from death row in Livingston to the death chamber at the Walls Unit in Huntsville. One of the last things they see is that big Texas sun rising over a vast lake. It’s quite breathtaking.” A trailer for the short film can be viewed here.
One For Tenis a new collection of documentary films telling the stories of innocent people who were on death row in the U.S. The first film of the series is onRay Krone, one of the 142 people who have been exonerated and freed from death row since 1973. Krone was released from Arizona’s death row in 2002 after DNA testing showed he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death 10 years earlier. Krone was convicted based largely on circumstantial evidence and bite-mark evidence, alleging his teeth matched marks on the victim. The film is narrated by Danny Glover. All the films will be free and may be shared under a Creative Commons license.
The Death Penalty Information Center has introduced a new series of graphs and quotes from prominent individuals, emphasizing various death penalty issues. These infographics have been displayed on Facebook and other outlets in the past few months. We are now offering them serially in a slide show on DPIC’s website. The graphics can be individually downloaded for use in various mediums. The slide show is available at this link. The infographics are grouped under a range of topics such as Costs, Race, and Innocence, with more information on each topic available on DPIC’s site. You can also find this collection of infographics on Facebook (click on any “photo” and it will enlarge, and you can scroll through the entire series) and on Pinterest. New infographics will be added in the coming months.
A new documentary released by the Constitution Project and the New Media Advocacy Project commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, requiring states to appoint lawyers for indigent defendants in criminal cases. Prior to this decision, some states only provided attorneys in cases with special circumstances, like death penalty cases. Defending Gideon is narrated by Martin Sheen and includes interviews with national experts, including former Vice-President Walter Mondale, former N.Y. Times reporter Anthony Lewis, and death-penalty attorney Bryan Stevenson. Clarence Gideon was convicted, without an attorney, of breaking into a pool hall in Florida and stealing money. When he was retried with legal counsel, he was acquitted. The video underscores the importance of guaranteeing effective representation, especially if a person’s life is at stake.
The CBS news show 48 Hours Mystery will air a segment this Saturday with an update on former death row inmate Anthony Graves‘ story.
Graves was exonerated in 2010 after spending 18 years in prison, most of them on death row. He was wrongfully convicted in 1994 of six counts of capital murder and spent the better part of two decades fighting to prove his innocence. The state paid him $1.45 million last year for the time he was imprisoned, but getting the money he was owed required Graves to take on another fight with the state.
Texas law allows exonerees like Graves to apply for compensation for the time they spent wrongfully incarcerated. It provides exonerees $80,000 per year of incarceration in a lump sum and then another $80,000 per year of incarceration in a monthly annuity.
But Texas Comptroller Susan Combs initially denied Graves’ application for compensation because the court documents that freed him from prison did not declare his “actual innocence,” as the law required. Last year, 48 Hours reported, along with many other news outlets, on the state’s denial of compensation to Graves.
In response to the controversy over Graves’ case, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston filed a bill that changed the law to make him and other similar wrongfully convicted ex-inmates eligible for state compensation while still weeding out weaker innocence claims. The measure also makes exonerees eligible for the same health benefits given to Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees for a period of time equal to the time they spent in prison. And it restricts fees lawyers for exonerees can charge their clients.
“If it hadn’t been for 48 Hours Mystery, I don’t think I would be getting my compensation,” Graves said in a CBS press release.
Check out a sneak preview of Saturday’s show here.
“The Green Mile” 1999. This is a fine movie about a prison guard and an inmate with the gift to heal. A friendship seems to brew between the two as death lingers over head. Tom Hanks plays an exceptional role as the prison guard in this classic movie.
“Dead Man Walking” 1999. Based on a true story of a nun who becomes a spiritual advisor to death row. Never wavering from her Christian beliefs, she struggles to console those who have killed and one in particular who shows no remorse or regret for what he has done.
“Identity” 2003. A movie about a wrongly accused killer on death row. While others struggle to clear his name he has come to grips with his destiny. Will the phone ring at the last minute to save the innocent?
“Monster’s Ball” 2001. Being in the family business isn’t Ledger’s cup of tea. After witnessing an execution he looses his lunch and his father looses his mind. Sent away to reexamine his life, ledger falls for Leticia (the wife of the one whose execution he witnessed).
“Black Angel” 1946. is a dark noir film very cleverly scripted. Just another innocent man on death row and the race to clear his name. This is still a wonderful and well directed dark film that even today it is one to review.
“The Thin Blue Line” 1998. A true docudrama about an innocent man on death row for the killing o Dallas policemen. A riveting story about the hardship and pain one man would go through for the sake of proving another’s innocence.
“Dead Man Out”1989. What would happen if a convicted killer were to go insane while on death row. That is exactly the question this movie asks and sets out to answer it. This is a riveting and entertaining movie.
“Live! From Death Row” 1992. Yes, you read it right. This is a tabloid based movie about a live interview of a killer before his execution. Things don’t always go as planned however, even in television.
“Angels with Dirty Faces” 1938. Chronicles the lives of two friends, one chose the priesthood and the other a life of crime. One is set to pay for his crimes while the other the last rites.
“Beyond the Call” 1996. This movie centers on a housewife who finds herself in the midst of an inmate on death row. She feels compelled to help him based on his haunted past. This is a movie about the Vietnam era veterans and post traumatic syndrome.
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 victims family, he spent the last twelve years of his life on Death Row.