The Exonerated: True Stories of Innocents Sprung From Death Row

"This play is neither left-wing nor right-wing. We don't have an agenda, our job is to stay out of the way and just let the people tell their stories," says Erik Jensen, co-author (with wife Jessica Blank) of The Exonerated, a one-act documentary play depicting the true-life experiences of exonerated Death Row prisoners. The Exonerated is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a limited run at the Culture Project in New York City.

Jensen and Blank talk with Reason TV's Anthony L. Fisher about how the play influenced former Gov. George Ryan's decision to commute the sentences of Illinois' Death Row prisoners to life imprisonment, the support of the Innocence Project, and what life is like for freed prisoners upon returning to society.

The play is directed by actor Bob Balaban and runs through December 2nd, 2012. The Exonerated features a rotating cast including Broadway regulars and well-known performers such as Stockard Channing, Brain Dennehy, Steve Earle, Marg Helgenberger, Christine Lahti, Delroy Lindo, Lyle Lovett, Michael McKean, Joe Morton, Chris Sarandon, Martin Short, and Trudie Styler. The cast also includes two exonerated prisoners playing themselves: Kerry Max Cook and Sunny Jacobs.

About 4.30 minutes. Produced by Anthony L. Fisher. Camera by Jim Epstein.

Scroll below for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Enough About Palin||

    FREED!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Instead of prosecutors, they should be called prostitutors.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Now you went and upset him.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Fucking Steamroller Productions.

  • ||

    Brain Dennehy

    "I'm Brian Dennehy."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    SOFT ON CRIME.

  • ||

    imo, if one is going to be pro-death penalty, then one has to accept that , given sufficient # of cases, a true innocent WILL be executed. it has happened, and it will happened. if the idea in unsconscionable to somebody, that the state can given due process, take an INNOCENT life, then that person must end up anti-death penalty.

    we don't require absolute certainty, merely beyond a reasonable doubt and PLENTY of innocents fit through those cracks, even GIVEN adequate defense counsel, etc. which is hardly a given in our justice system.

  • sarcasmic||

    I've always found it curious the most vocal critics of the death penalty seem to support abortion, while the most vocal critics of abortion seem to support the death penalty.

    Both groups claim that they don't want innocents to die.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    An abortion definitely kills an innocent. The death penalty can be engineered to make that probability very low.

  • sarcasmic||

    You said the appeals system works, which means the probability is zero.

    Oh, wait. I get it. You're moving the goalposts.

  • kbolino||

    An abortion definitely kills an innocent.

    I suppose that depends on whether you believe in predestination. Or, for that matter, original sin.

  • Lisa||

    If one is going to be anti-death penalty, then one has to accept that, given sufficient # of cases, a true guilty will be let go.

    I would wager that more guilty people are free in this country than innocent people who are killed by the death penalty. To me, the idea that a murderer is free pisses me off more than the idea that an innocent person is given the death penalty. I don't like any distraction from the point that a serious crime has been committed, when people stop focusing on that is when injustices happen of all kinds. The innocent person getting wrongfully convicted is a symptom.

  • dinkster||

    Better they be free, and people are given their CCW permits to defend themselves. You can be pissed off all you want, it doesn't justify the state murdering someone. I would let 100 murderers go before I executed an innocent person.

  • Agreenweed||

    dinkster, I like the way you think.

  • dinkster||

    To me, the idea that a murderer is free pisses me off more than the idea that an innocent person is given the death penalty.

    Also, wtf is wrong with you?

  • ||

    remember also that when an innocent person is given the death penalty you have TWO wrongs

    1) innocent person killed by the state
    2) guilty person is still out there without being punished.

    doubly bad

  • ||

    for better or worse, OUR (the USA) justice system is based on the idea that it is better that 10 guilty men go free than an innocent man be convicted

    again, that's a fundamental concept behind it

  • ||

    Dunphy said:
    "for better or worse, OUR (the USA) justice system is based on the idea that it is better that 10 guilty men go free than an innocent man be convicted. Again, that's a fundamental concept behind it"

    It's a miracle we haven't devolved into a state of mo-hawks and motorcycles, fighting for every gallon of juice.

    You know: the whole human nature sucks idea, except our valiant government, keeping them at bay.

  • ||

    No, it's based upon due process.

  • dinkster||

    Beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • dinkster||

    Sharia law courts provide due process.,. beyond a reasonable doubt provides a very high bar such that ideally, only the guilty are convicted.

  • ant1sthenes||

    "If one is going to be anti-death penalty, then one has to accept that, given sufficient # of cases, a true guilty will be let go."

    Let go? If permanent life in prison is the alternative, then it's only a question of how a person's ties to the real world are severed, not if. I don't think escapes from death row are very common.

  • kbolino||

    To me, the idea that a murderer is free pisses me off more than the idea that an innocent person is given the death penalty.

    Better thee than me.

  • Agreenweed||

    Until you or your family member is on death row for a crime you didn't commit, sure. At that point though, I doubt you would be so supportive. Its interesting to see other commentors so divided on an issue, I don't feel like I see an immense about of disagreement on reason comments. Then again, that's because you guys are always talking about star trek or some shit.

  • Mensan||

    To me, the idea that a murderer is free pisses me off more than the idea that an innocent person is given the death penalty.

    Either way an innocent person is murdered. The murder of an innocent person by a government that is supposedly of and by the people is a far more serious crime than the murder of an innocent by one depraved individual. Additionally, death penalty cases are usually only for cases of murder. When an innocent person is convicted, the case is closed, and the actual murderer remains free.

  • ||

    Much, much more likely that an innocent will be murdered by a repeat murderer than an innocent will be executed, by 0ver 14,000 to 1

    Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/.....death.html

  • dinkster||

    So, we should provide far more CCW licenses, to bring that statistic down. Nothing you've said legitimizes state sanctioned murder.

  • ||

    You must also accept that innocents are better protected by the death penalty.

    THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES

    Of all endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

    1) The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/.....ocent.html

    2) Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/.....death.html

  • Dan||

    That's nonsense. There is a ludicrous amount of scrutiny in every death penalty case. That's why it usually takes 20+ years to actually carry out the sentence most of the time.

    There isn't a single instance of somebody that was demonstrably innocent being put to death, not one.

    Yes some innocent people get convicted of crimes, far too often if you ask me. But nobody has ever been put to death for a crime they didn't commit.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Innocents sprung from death row are evidence that the post-conviction appeals system for death penalty inmates works.

    It's also quite likely that these people would still be in prison had they been sentenced to life instead of the death penalty. Just like Cory Maye.

  • sarcasmic||

    Some innocents sprung from death row means all innocents are sprung from death row?

    Talk about logical fallacies.

  • ||

    yea, i think it's a NEAR CERTAINTY(tm), that a true innocent(s) has been executed and that there are true innocent(s) on death row right now.

    Tulpa does make an interesting point, kind of plays into some game theory aspects of the CJ system, in that

    *if*

    one is placed on the death penalty track, all sorts of protections/procedures etc. kick in that offer the inmate greater protection(s) and greater chance of exoneration than if he remained on death row.

    there is not nearly as much sexiness and incentive in freeing an innocent man vs. freeing an innocent man ABOUT TO BE EXECUTED and IF one is innocent, there is an argument that in many respects you might be better off getting placed on deaht row, since then you get the added attention of all the groups etc. fighting to get the innocent off death row, plus additional (in many states) appeal rights, etc. etc.

    iow, assume you are in fact innocent

    you get convicted (whether through prosecutor misconduct, cop misconduct, dwefense attorney misconduct, lying witnesses or through NO "bad " intent or poor performance on the aprt of defense, but simply VERY bad luck (wrong place, wrong time, look just like real bad guy, etc. etc.) and placed on death row

    assume that there is a 50% chance of getting exonerated if put on death row but only 5 % if left to rot on life w/o parole row

    would you take that chance?

    hmmm...

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    If the probabilities were as you state, I'd definitely go for death row. It's not 10 times worse than life in prison, at least for me.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    It's better than no innocents sprung from death row.

  • sarcasmic||

    You said you wanted someone to point out when you use fallacious arguments. So there you go. "Some equals all" is a fallacy, Fallacy Man.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Where did I say "all"?

  • ||

    tulpa said it "works"

    that doesn't mean "always " works.

    iow, i see this argument from the outside as a quibble. he didn't say it worked to the extent no innocent was ever maintained on death row.

  • ||

    Tulpa said the post-conviction appeals system for death penalty inmates works. He did not say it works for those who sprung; he did not say it works for some. He stated "for death penalty inmates". That means all of them if not specified otherwise.

  • ||

    Death penalty appeals are more thorough that any others, meaning that lifers are more likely to die, as innocents in prison than it is that innocents will be executed.

  • Dan||

    Cite us a case where somebody that was later proven innocent was executed.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Innocents sprung from death row are evidence that the post-conviction appeals system for death penalty inmates works.

    So there is no possibility of any of these innocents ever being executed?

  • SugarFree||

    Tulpa's rock keeps the tigers away.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Not after they've been sprung.

  • Agreenweed||

    Well ... umm....duh.

  • Hneckone||

    It's not the appeals system that's working - it's forensic evidence, particularly DNA testing. A lot of these guys were convicted based on eye witness testimony, which often is unreliable.

    FYI - I saw a movie of this play a few years ago in an arthouse theater. I bet it's available on netflix or apple TV. Save the outrageous ticket price of a NY play and rent it.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    You might also have a look around at community theater. Our community theater did a production of this about a year ago--it's very powerful, especially if you've got a couple of good actors (and it happened we did). And while a YouTube production might be OK, there's nothing that beats live theater.

  • np||

    I've mentioned this before. There's a way to make justice (of real crimes) truly be just, even with the death penalty. And that is to remove sovereign immunity and all immunity of those involved.

    In free market, if you make a bad business decision you lose money. Why should those involved in justice not suffer the consequences of their bad decisions?

  • dinkster||

    A bit too French Revolutiony. We should just do away with the death penalty all together. You can never know if someone is truly guilty; a botched DNA test, a corrupt forensics technician (does happen), an incompetent cop, eidolons, time travel, who knows what really happened.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    One innocent individual getting fucked over by the "justice" system is worse than infinite guilty people not being convicted. Everyone convicted deserves evidence being reviewed if it might introduce uncertainty in the case against them. And innocents should be compensated.

  • ||

    Have I found this here?

  • ||

    I suspect that a lot of innocents are executed.

    When you look at the amount of state force and resources that go against a defendant for a serious crime, and compare that to what the state supplies a defendant (i.e., a cheap lawyer)...

    I hope I never end up on the other side of that equation.

  • dinkster||

    It always infuriates me that the DA receives 10 times the funding that the Public Defender's office receives. How in the world is that OK?

  • ||

    There's no evidnce of an innocent being executed in the US, as least since the 1930's.

    It appears that at least 14,000 innocents have been murdered, since 1973, by those murderers that we have allowed to murder, again.

    Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/.....death.html

  • dinkster||

    There's no evidnce of an innocent being executed in the US, as least since the 1930's.

    The hell there isn't, sockpuppet.

  • Dan||

    Nothing was discovered in that case that casts any doubt on the original conviction.

    Other than the author telling you so, there is nothing in the movie that draws anything into question or casts doubt on any of the evidence.

  • ||

    The play "The Exonerated" - are any actually innocent?
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2.....exico.aspx

    Dear Mr. Fisher:

    False innocence claims are very common from the anti death penalty folks. See reviews 4-13, below.

    I believe that articles nos 10 and 12 also expose the deceptions of some of the "exonerated" cases in that play.

    The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are both blatant and legendary. Some additional examples:

    4) "The Innocent Executed: Deception Death Penalty Opponents"
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2.....draft.aspx

    contd

  • pradaguccioutlet@gmail.co||

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  • pradaguccioutlet@gmail.co||

    Let us hope the preceding paragraphs rouse the nation’s guardians from their torpid slumber, and alert them to the peril that threatens the very fabric of our nation. Let us hope. This insouciance seems ill-advised, when you reflect that Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where the chicken attack took place, is home to the Wallops Island Spaceport – a crucial piece of the nation’s transportation infrastructurecheap nfl jerseys positions. I can't tell if this article was Hinkle trying, poorly, to make a point about regulatory waste or Hinkle doing a rambling Andy Rooney schtick, poorly.

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