Originally broadcast in 1987, the documentary film recounts the final days before the execution of Edward Earl Johnson, an American prisoner convicted of rape and murder. Johnson protested his innocence and claimed that his confession had been made under duress. He was executed in Mississippi's gas chamber on May 20, 1987.
The documentary crew, given access to the prison warden, guards and chaplain and to Johnson and his family, filmed the last days of Johnson's life in detail. The documentary argues against the death penalty and maintains that capital punishment is disproportionately applied to African-Americans convicted of crimes against whites. The program features attorney Clive Stafford Smith, a noted advocate against capital punishment.
It was in direct response to this documentary that the Lifelines organization was set up, to organize pen pals for death row prisoners. Reprieve, an organisation which works against the death penalty, with a particular focus on legal support for those facing the death penalty around the world, was founded by Clive Stafford Smith in 1999.
The Wadham Human Rights Forum is a continuing series of lectures, seminars and discussions hosted by the Wadham College Law Society and open to all.
Paul Hamann biography
Paul Hamann is the former head of BBC Documentaries & History and was responsible for over 200 hours of television for BBC One and Two every year, including the landmark strands Inside Story, Reputations, Timewatch, Rough Justice, Simon Schama’s History of Britain and Michael Palin’s various journeys. Under Paul’s leadership, the department trebled its output and won more awards than any other area of British television.
Paul has received many awards for his own work. They include a BAFTA for Best Documentary Series for The Duty Men about British undercover Customs and Excise drug agents; and the BFI’s Grierson Award for Fourteen Days in May, a moving and hard-hitting documentary about the execution of an innocent young black man in Mississippi, which won five further international awards.
Clive Stafford Smith biography
Clive Stafford Smith oversees Reprieve’s casework programme, as well as the direct representation of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and on death row as a Louisiana licensed attorney at law.
After graduating from Columbia Law School in New York, Clive spent nine years as a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights working on death penalty cases and other civil rights issues. In 1993, Clive moved to New Orleans and launched the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a non-profit law office specialising in representation of poor people in death penalty cases.
In total, Clive has represented over 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in the southern United States. While he only took on the cases of those who could not afford a lawyer – he has never been paid by a client – and always the most despised, he prevented the death penalty in all but six cases (a 98% “victory” rate). Few lawyers ever take a case to the US Supreme Court – Clive has taken five, and all of the prisoners prevailed.