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Stories of The Exonerated

Review by Alice Kim | Janury 28, 2005 | Page 9

The Exonerated, starring Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Delroy Lindo and Susan Sarandon. Premieres January 27, 9 p.m. EST on Court TV.

THE EXONERATED tells the heart-wrenching real-life stories of six death row prisoners who were wrongly convicted and later proven innocent.

Originally a powerful stage play, a made-for-TV version of The Exonerated will premiere on Court TV this week. The all-star cast, including Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, presents compelling biographies of these victims of the criminal justice system, delivering their actual words into the camera.

One of them is Kerry Max Cook, who spent 22 years on Texas' death row for a crime he didn't commit. In 1999, he was finally freed when new DNA evidence proved his innocence. Back in 1978, the jury in Cook's original trial deliberated for less than two hours before convicting and sentencing him to death.

The injustices endured by Cook and the others are made apparent in The Exonerated, but the stories do much more than tell the details of their cases. The script brings to life the personalities of each of the exonerated--Cook's penchant for conversation, Delbert Tibbs' spirituality and poetic way with words, and Gary Gauger's sensibility.

The Exonerated puts a human face on the death penalty. That's why it is so effective. Based entirely on court testimony, interviews and letters, the original play was inspired by a Campaign to End the Death Penalty workshop at an anti-death penalty conference in New York City several years ago.

After listening to an Illinois death row prisoner speak to an audience from his prison cell via telephone hook-up, actors Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen were inspired to write The Exonerated. Before then-Gov. George Ryan emptied Illinois' death row by commuting all of the state's death sentences in January 2003, he saw a special viewing of the play hosted by Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions.

The play was one of many activities coordinated by Illinois abolitionists in the months leading up to Ryan's historic decision. Make sure to tune in to The Exonerated. It's a moving account of how every death sentence carries with it the possibility that an innocent person may be executed.

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