Philobiblon: On the politics of 'The Exonerated'

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

On the politics of 'The Exonerated'

This post started out as a response to a commenter on the post below about the play The Exonerated, who questioned if the people featured were in fact innocent. As a theatre critic I reviewed the play, and wasn't terribly impressed, but it is worth, I think, stating that I entirely agree with its politics.

I can't debate all of the cases in detail, but I heard Sunny Jacobs in person interviewed on Radio 4 and her story certainly seemed to hang together - plus there's the fact that the real killer confessed several times, and that when he testified against Sunny and her partner the jury were not told this was part of a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid the death penalty himself. I can't see how any jury could make a fair determination without knowing that essential fact. (There's a Guardian account here.)

And (responding to my commenter) a statement from a person in shock, who has just been at a scene of violence - as remember and written down later by a probably equally shocked policeman - doesn't strike me as compelling evidence.

In some ways anyway the detailed facts of these cases doesn't particularly matter. DNA has conclusively acquitted people on death row in the US - innocent people who could easily have been killed by the state. That, and the fact that those facing the death penalty are overwhelmingly poor and non-white, indicate this is a profoundly unfair system. I don't believe in the death penalty under any circumstances, but when its application is this biased and arbitrary, I can't understand how anyone could support it.

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