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DEADLINE The Movie

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Introduction & Film Directors

Deadline directors Katy Chevigny & Kirsten Johnson tackle the volatile topic of the US capital punishment system with intelligence, compassion and balance. 4WardEver UK has screened this film twice in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, they capture the extraordinary transformation of one man who held power of life and death in his hands.

www.deadlinethemovie.com

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One of the biggest hot-button issues dividing the United States has long been capital punishment, so when Illinois Governor George Ryan, a conservative Republican, commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates the day before his term ended, it shocked the nation and outraged many in his own party.

Film Background:

On Jan. 11, 2003, Ill. Gov. George Ryan announced that he was commuting the sentences of 167 death row prisoners due to “the demon of error” in the capital punishment system.

The Republican governor’s decision was prompted by numerous cases of Illinois death row inmates being exonerated. Reports of widespread prosecutorial misconduct were published in a five-piece series in the Chicago Tribune, which also featured a number of anti-death penalty editorials by writer Cornelia Grumman.

The death penalty controversy came to a head in 1999, when a group of journalism students at Northwestern University uncovered evidence indicating that inmate Anthony Porter—who had been just 50 hours from execution before a stay was granted—was wrongly convicted.

Ryan declared a moratorium on executions on Jan. 31, 2000 and formed a commission to investigate the capital punishment in Illinois. Commission member Scott Turow wrote in 2003 that the “system is an unguided ship” in which defendants are sentenced to death based less on the severity on their crime than by factors like race, class, geography, public emotion, and the lawyers and judges involved.

The commission made 85 recommendations to ensure that the capital punishment system was more just, including a reduction of capital offenses from 20 to five. It determined that “no system can or will be constructed which sufficiently guarantees that the death penalty will be applied without arbitrariness or error.”

When the Illinois legislature didn’t act on the commission’s recommendations, Ryan decided to take dramatic action. He first pardoned four death row inmates who had been tortured into giving confessions and then commuted the sentences of 163 others to life in prison. He made his announcement in a speech at Northwestern University on Jan. 11, just three days before he was to leave office.

“Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die,” declared Ryan. “What effect was race having? What effect was poverty having? Because of all these reasons, today I am commuting the sentences of all Death Row inmates.”

Report of the Commission on Capital Punishment >
April 2002

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