A Broken System

Lenore — August 25, 2009 @ 1:41 PM — Comments (1)

New Documentary: A Broken System

A Broken System is a new, 45-minute documentary by filmmaker Kohl Harrington. The film consists of interviews with people whose lives have been deeply affected by the death penalty, including Juan Melendez, Aba Gayle, Bill Babbitt, Ron McAndrew, and Don Cabana.

Melendez speaks of how he was wrongfully accused and sentenced to death in Florida. His accuser, the real killer, framed him. Racist police and judges ignored important evidence that supported Melendez’s innocence and it wasn’t until the case was transferred to another County that Melendez had any prayer of release. He was released not long after.

Gayle tells us of the pain of losing her youngest daughter, Catherine, to murder. At first, she says, she was filled with hatred and rage, but then, through a spiritual awakening, began to forgive her daughter’s murderer, and then become his friend. She now works to abolish the death penalty. Condemned men, she emphasizes, are not monsters, but human beings just like the rest of us.

Babbitt talks of his heart-wrenching experience with the death penalty: Babbitt’s younger brother, a mentally ill Vietnam Veteran named Manny, murdered Leah Schendel, and Babbitt soon figured out that Manny was the perpetrator. In exchange for telling the authorities about Manny’s crime, Bill was told that Manny would not be executed and that he would receive help. However, their promise was false and Manny was sentenced to death and executed. Babbitt felt betrayed by the American justice system and since then has been working hard to educate people about the reality of the death penalty.

McAndrew, a former Florida prison warden, describes his experiences as both executioner and observer, and those experiences in the execution chamber literally haunt him. Of the condemned men, he says they will sometimes come to him in the middle of the night and just sit on the edge of his bed. ‘They never say anything,” he says, “but I know why they’re there.” Although he supported the death penalty whole-heartedly as an entering warden, his position began to shift as he witnessed the horrible ways in which the electric chair and lethal injection can kill someone. He relates the story of how, one night as he drove home from the prison, having just completed an execution, he saw a protester holding up a sign that said but one word: barbaric. Remembering how the previous night’s execution (that of Pedro Medina) had gone so badly, McAndrew rolled down his window and said, “Brother, you are absolutely right.”

Cabana, a former Mississippi warden, also speaks of the horrors of the death chambers. His stories and words are similar to McAndrew’s. Like McAndrew, he is not a soft guy, rather a tough one, but he is still deeply affected by the horrifying executions that he both helped with and administered. He also talks of feeling “unclean” after executions-that despite his best efforts to “scrub and scrub and scrub” the feeling off in the shower at three a.m., he never could quite get clean.

For more information about how obtain a copy of this film for screenings, contact stefanie@deathpenalty.org.

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  1. Our son was convicted of a Felon and received 3 years probation. He pleaded “NO Contest” to a charge of Agg. Assualt with a deadly weapon without the intent to cause harm. His attorney told him to take the plea as the judge was hanging judge and would give him 20 years in prison if he didn’t take the plea. He was a victim of a hit and run and followed the person to their home within a mile of the accident. He waited for the police at the accident and after 20 minutes the person who hit him took off. He arrived in a migrant community at the end of a dead end street and was being surrounded by 20 plus people. He had been in contact with the 911 operator but this time he was frunstrated and said you had better send a cop now or someone might get killed. this worked and now a officer arrived. Everyone had left and there was no sight of the person who hit his truck. the officer was about to have him leave when another detective arrived and insisted that the first officer go and talk to the woman in the yard. After about an hour the brother of this woman says oh he pointed a gun at her and the children. then it was he held them down and put a gun her her mouth then it was he just had a gun. Our son had a gun in his truck locked up and when the first officer came he showed it to him and put it back. The brother of the supposed victim did the translation for the supposed victim as she spoke a language from Guatalama and he spoke some Spanish and some English and some of her language. Our son never saw the children, he never pointed a gun an anyone and the polygraph proves that at 99.9 % accuract comments. Our son has never ever been arrested or had other charges of any kind. We asked for the copy of the tape of the supposed victims statements which the brother again was the translator and was told it was lost. Our son took the plea. He is not a convicted felon. The state attorney’s office offered withholding the plea until the probation was completed and our son’s attorney said no the judge would then be sure to send him to jail. He was charged with three counts of aggrev. child abuse, hate crime, and agg assult. All were dropped except the agg assult. How do we fix the record everytime he goes for a job the child abuse shows up. We reported the problems with the attorney to the Bar Association, that is a joke.

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