Irony abounds in The Exonerated, a dark, riveting collection of monologues delivered by six wrongly convicted Americans who rotted in various Death Rows before some stroke of luck, fortune or divine providence sprang them from their dungeons. But the real irony is that those who most need to witness the play--proponents of state-administered death--are the ones who would undoubtedly appreciate it the least.
The play, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, was originally produced in 2002 by the Actors Gang, a Los Angeles-based troupe that, at the time, included a couple of high-profile names seemingly synonymous with the anti-Death Penalty debate: actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. It has lost none of its bite over the past eight years.
But what gives The Exonerated its keenly felt human dimension is that each of the falsely imprisoned, as well as their loved ones, was copiously interviewed. Each delivers a profound sense of individual loss and devastation that is too often overlooked in most Death Penalty debates.
Kerry: A young Texas man targeted for the murder of a sexually precocious woman in a motel. The only "evidence:" a fingerprint in the room left by Kerry long before the murder. Although plenty of evidence pointed to a local university professor conducting an affair with the woman, Kerry is framed due to his so-called homosexual perversion (he was actually a quite heterosexual male who unfortunately worked as a bartender in a gay bar). He would wind up spending 22 grueling years on Texas' death row before finally being freed by DNA Evidence.
Gary: A Midwestern farmer who wakes up to find his parents grisly murdered outside their home. He is convicted based on a confession he witlessly cops to based on intense police coercion and physical exhaustion. Only after a federal wiretap of a local motorcycle gang years later uncovers evidence that the murders were part of an initiation is he allowed to walk free.
Robert: An African-American horse groomer who made the unfortunate choice to date a white woman in a part of Florida where such fraternizing is frowned upon. He spent seven years on Death Row based on one piece of evidence: a strand of long hair in the dead woman's hands that didn't even match his hair color or length.
David: A shy teen-ager who wants to enter the ministry but who stupidly admits to being at the scene of a murder even though he was nowhere close. His hope is the overwhelming evidence he thinks will exonerate him. But it's never entered into court.
Sunny: A star-eyed hippie and mother of two convicted with her husband of shooting two police officers. She languishes on Death Row for 17 years, even though the real murderer had confessed to the killing some 16 years previously, a confession the authorities conveniently forgot about.