By Tiyana Clark
CNN‘s “Death Row Stories” is a new documentary series that exposes the grave truth about the American justice system. This eight-episode series, narrated by actress/ activist Susan Sarandon, delves into different capital murder cases and focuses on people who have been wrongly condemned. “Death Row Stories” enlightens its audience with facts about the death penalty, and the material speaks for itself–innocent people are being wrongly convicted. Each episode features harrowing, first-hand stories from the convicted prisoners, defense attorneys, prosecutors and crime victims’ families involved in each case.
Five of the eight episodes have aired, and the final three episodes will resume on July 13, 2014. Each episode has unraveled a different case. The premiere episode explored the story of Edward Lee Elmore, an African American handy-man who was sentenced to death for the murder of a woman in 1982. Legal intern, Diana Holt, investigated Elmore’s case and found new evidence that proved his innocence. We hear from Holt and Elmore on the planted and hidden evidence that played a heavy role in Elmore’s conviction. After spending thirty years on death row, Elmore was finally exonerated.
”Death Row Stories” not only captivated Sunday night viewers, but captivated Tweeters everywhere. Hashtags like #deathrowstories roused profound debates. @pluvlaw notably stated: “Glad the whole world now knows the Edward Lee Elmore story. Not every accused person lucks into a Diana Holt.” This show got everyone asking: How many other cases do we miss? How many innocent people end up death row?
New episodes shared the stories of Gloria Killian, Joe D’Ambrosio, James Duckett and John Thompson. Gloria Killian spent 16 years on death row after an egregious and unfair trial. She was released after a key statement against Killian was declared perjurious. Joe D’Ambrosio was on death row for over twenty years. Rev. Neil Kookoothe found evidence that helped exonerate D’Ambrosio after a botched trial. Rev. Kookoothe profoundly said “If this is wrong, what else might be wrong?” James Duckett, a former police officer, spent over 25 years on death row. Key evidence supporting his alibi was not introduced during trial and a false testimony against Duckett lead to his conviction. Duckett is still on death row awaiting his appeals process while evidence of his possible innocence is being reviewed. John Thompson was on death row for 18 years for a crime he did not commit. Ultimately blood evidence played a key role in Thompson’s exoneration. Everyone was convinced that Thompson did it, but science proves his innocence.
In each of these cases, a jury was convinced that the person was guilty, and each conviction stood up even after rounds of appeal. Yet clearly mistakes persisted. These cases reveal how luck, chance and the dedication of advocates, journalists, lawyers, and law students who go the extra mile to shed light on discrepancies in these cases is what ultimately makes the difference and gives these people another chance. How can we have confidence in a legal system that relies on the persistence of people mostly outside the legal system to catch these grave mistakes? In the cases of Elmore, Killian, D’Ambrosio, Duckett and Thompson the conviction was only won because of gross misconduct by prosecutors who withheld evidence or committed other illegal acts to get a conviction. Even once this misconduct is brought to light, there is little, if any repercussions for the prosecutor. After we see such erroneous errors in our legal system, isn’t it time to make a change?
Are you one of the 90 million people who believe that the death penalty is wrong? We want to hear from you. Tell us why you oppose the death penalty: ncadp.tumblr.com/