Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Death Penalty Photography Documentary Project

The Ku Klux Klan rallying in support of a black man’s execution in Texas. The North Carolina death row warden wheeling a gurney into the execution chamber. Weeping family members at the moment of a loved one’s execution.

These are just a few of the images captured in Scott Langley’s chilling death penalty documentary photography project, which is the most comprehensive collection of original death penalty photographs available from one source.

The documentary includes execution vigils, inside an execution chamber, the hours leading up to an execution, portraits of exonerated death row prisoners, celebrities opposed to the death penalty, marches, demonstrations and candid emotional and prayerful moments in the context of the death penalty in the United States.

The project started in 1999 and continues today, providing images to publications, educational institutions and national organizations in the work to educate about capital punishment.

About the project

Executions in the United States are not public events.  In fact, video or photo cameras have never been allowed in the death houses at the time of executions. Coupled with the fact that many of the states hold executions at nighttime or early morning hours, very few people see or experience what transpires on an execution night in this country - either inside or outside the prison. 

The Death Penalty Photography Documentary Project began in 1999 as a college class assignment in Texas - artistically capturing what was available to those of us "on the outside." Since then, the project has expanded to include in-depth coverage of North Carolina, Georgia, the federal death penalty and much more. 

The work-in-progress consists of thousands of images – making it the largest, most varied known collection of photos about the death penalty in the United States’ modern era. The project highlights Scott Langley's efforts as an independent photojournalist and a human rights activist - bringing together the unique combination of art, journalism and education into one powerful project. 

The photos are used regularly by organizations, schools and in books and videos about the death penalty. The photos also have been exhibited around the world in recent years, having been shown in Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York, Texas, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico, North Dakota, Malaysia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK.

About the photographer

Scott Langley is a free-lance photojournalist based in New York.  His documentary work has been widespread throughout the world in recent years – appearing in newspapers, magazines, books, encyclopedias, theater productions, calendars, films, on television and t-shirts.

In addition to work as a photographer, Scott has been an active grassroots organizer against the death penalty since 1999.  A native Texan, he later went to North Carolina in 2004 where he and his wife co-founded the Raleigh Catholic Worker Hospitality House where families of death row prisoners may find free shelter, food and support. 

Since 2004, Scott has served as an Amnesty International USA State Death Penalty Coordinator, first for North Carolina and Massachusetts, and now New York State.  He also recently served on the board of Journey of Hope... From Violence to Healing, an organization of murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty.

Scott travels within and outside the U.S. to speak about capital punishment, his work against executions, his work with death row families, and about his photography documentary project.

Scott Langley
Published on Mar 17, 2008

RALEIGH - Captured on film, the warden of North Carolina's Central Prison (Marvin Polk) narrates the preparation and final hours before an execution in Raleigh, where the state execution facilities are located.

Warden Polk takes members of the press through the prison, detailing hour-by-hour the preparation, and carrying out, of a 2:00 am execution. Footage includes the deathwatch area, the table where the last meal is taken, the final holding cell, the IV preparation room, the witness room, and footage of Warden Polk and Captain Marshall Hudson wheeling the gurney into the execution chamber.

The short film includes candid discussion by the warden about the role of doctors in lethal injections as well as his own feelings on overseeing the executions.

Before each North Carolina execution (Fridays at 2:00 am, when scheduled), Central Prison offers a media tour on the preceding Monday morning to explain the execution protocol and answer questions from the press.

The film was shot during a media tour in November 2005, between the executions of Steven McHone (11/11/05) and Elias Syriani (11/18/05) by Scott Langley, a Boston-based photojournalist who has been documenting the death penalty for nearly ten years.

A free DVD quality version is available for educators and activists for educational use. Contact to order - info at deatpenaltyphoto.org

Source: deathpenaltyphoto.org, February 2019

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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