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'Exonerated’ Puts Emotion Into Death-Row Argument

1/23/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

A top-flight cast, paired with a narrative molded from court transcripts, interviews and depositions, results in an artful and moving argument against capital punishment in The Exonerated, a filmed version of an off-Broadway stage production.

Developed and directed by actor, director and producer Bob Balaban (A Mighty Wind), the play is a series of monologues discussing the cases of former death row inmates who are now free as a result of confessions by others or scientific testing.

Relating the tales are cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, Aidan Quinn and newcomer David Brown Jr.

The power in the drama is the revelation of just how capricious — at times — the application of justice can be. For instance, Kerry Max Cook, played devastatingly by Quinn, spent 22 years on death row.

His conviction was based on one fingerprint and a roommate’s recognition of him. But according to the narrative, he had spent just one evening in the victim’s apartment during the three weeks preceding the murder. That’s when the roommate saw him.

But investigators did not dig far enough to reveal that the victim had also been involved in an adulterous affair with a married man. That man had been seen around her apartment on the night of the murder.

Another subject, Gary Gaugher, was convicted of slashing the throats of both of his parents. After the shock of the discovery, he was questioned for hours until he was so exhausted he made a “vision statement,” supposing how he would have killed his parents.

He created the statement, he said, so the cops would stop questioning him and he could rest. It was treated as a confession.

None of the stories are told with much bombast. There are flares of anger and of barely controlled tears, but mostly the stories tell themselves. For the people who have lived with the horror of knowing the day of their death, life has taken on a banal flatness. The tales have been told so many times, to attorneys and journalists that the facts are rote. Yet the stories are crafted and presented in a manner that provides dramatic ebb and flow and gives authentic emotion to the piece.

The Exonerated debuts Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on Court TV.

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