They belong to a very small and extremely unusual club that has only 142 members. The factor that unites them is that they have all experienced America’s capital punishment system at first hand, yet lived to tell the tale.
This is the club of death row exonerees. Its members include Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence in 1993 and now an anti-death penalty campaigner of national renown.
Then there is Damon Thibodeaux, who walked free last September, an innocent man, from the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana where he spent 15 years in the shadow of the death chamber. And the only woman in this peculiar group, Sabrina Butler, who was wrongfully sentenced to death by Mississippi in 1990 for killing her nine-month-old son, compounding the grief of a teenaged mother who had lost her first born, as it later transpired, to liver failure.
Now a pair of filmmakers from London have created a series of documentaries to profile this exceptional club of death row exonerees in a creative experiment, where they traveled 5,500 miles across the US in an RV, in which they drove, ate, slept and edited what they hope will be a ground-breaking interactive documentary project. They are calling it One For Ten– after a simple but harrowing fact: that since the death penalty resumed in America after a hiatus in 1976, there have been 1,323 executions and 142 exonerations.
In other words, for every 10 prisoners executed, another one has been allowed to walk free because the death sentence was found to be unreliable.
“Whether or not you agree with the death penalty, that’s an outrageous level of failure,” says Will Francome, who hit the road last April along with his filmmaking partner Mark Pizzey. “The consequences of such glaring flaws are horrifying – if you get the death penalty wrong it’s irreversible.”
The 30ft RV embarked from New York on 11 April, and finished in Las Vegas on 18 May. During the course of five intense weeks, the team met and made an internet film about 10 exonerees, each one representing a different critical problem with the application of the death penalty in America.
Through the individual narratives of the 10, Francome and Pizzey hopes to highlight the many ways in which US capital punishment fails to deliver on its promise of only putting onto death row those who are guilty beyond even the minutest doubt. The 10 were carefully chosen to elucidate those problems – from misidentification of suspects, to false and coerced confessions, prosecutorial misconduct, atrociously poor representation by defense lawyers and bad forensic science.
The project’s creators hope that in addition to highlighting the injustices of capital punishment, One For Ten also broke new ground in terms of documentary film making. ‘One for Ten’ is a completely new form of interactive film-making; each film was shot in a day, edited the next and uploaded that night. This allowed us to utilise social media to engage our audience in the filmmaking process. They were able to ask interview questions of each our interviewees as well as helping to shape the films with feedback.
Excerpt, read: Death Penalty Filmmakers Hit the Road to Profile America’s Exonerees – By Ed Pilkington | Guardian UK (Note, Blogger made minor edits to reflect the fact that the film series has been produced since the article was originally published. Additionally, Blogger relied on the filmmakers’ website for post-production info such as the total number of miles traveled.)