Saturday, 26 July 2008


To: Fellow Anti-Death Penalty Bloggers, NACDL/TTLA/TCDLA/ ATLA Members and Law Faculty

Re: Rhode Island and West Hollywood International Film Festivals

During the last few years DNA evidence has cleared 400+ condemned prisoners in the United States. This irrefutable scientific evidence has caused many Americans to consider the probability that the “system” has been executing the innocent.

The Last Word is the first documentary to dig deeper than exoneration and prove beyond any doubt a case of wrongful execution. Most scholars, attorneys, religious leaders and politicians agree that proving a wrongful execution is the most important step toward slowing if not banning capital punishment.

The Last Word is not only dramatically captivating but also possesses high educational and motivational value for Americans (potential jurors) who presently support the death penalty. Through interviews and investigation this documentary unravels the complexity of our criminal justice system and demonstrates how we (society) built and continue to perpetuate a seriously flawed “machine” void of constitutionally guaranteed safety nets for the innocent. Equally inspirational is the film’s powerful message to Christians who have been misled by extremists to misinterpret the Bible as supportive of the death penalty.

The purpose of this email is to request your help by spreading the word about The Last Word (e.g. festival attendance; public screenings; classroom instruction; email forwards; home/church discussion groups; online chatter; etc.)

The film is currently weaving across America on the film festival circuit. DVD copies are available at and Educational and library distribution is being handled by National Film Network- -

Click here to view details on seven executions scheduled in Texas within the next few weeks!

“Unique, intriguing and dramatic as it leads to a heart breaking conclusion. One of America’s greatest miscarriages of justice!”
Millard FarmerDeath Row AttorneyAtlanta, GA
[Mr. Farmer was Louisiana Death Row inmate Patrick Sonnier’s appellate attorney. Sean Penn portrayed Mr. Sonnier in Dead Man Walking.]

“A must see for every Christian who has an opinion about capital punishment.”
Bishop Emeritus Leroy Matthieson

“This film should be required viewing for every high school and college student in America.”
Bonita GundenUnited States Public Defender

“A perfect example of how lazy lawyers, crooked politicians and asinine laws caused the system to fail. In Garrett’s case, the match got thrown early on. His own lawyers threw the case!”
Jeff BlackburnTexas Director,The Innocence Project

“Had I known then what I know now I never would have voted to convict the boy. He’d still be alive today. We trusted in the doctors and the lawyers and the system. Unfortunately, we trusted too much.”
Nathan Shackleford Juror #12

“Powerful! Eye opening and informative. The Last Word is a valuable educational resource which will inspire my students in many ways.”
Claudia StuartProfessor Criminal JusticeTexas A&M University

“I’ve watched the film (three times) and enjoyed it immensely!”
Aaron PhillipsTravel & Entertainment Reporter Amarillo Globe News

Attorney and Documentarian Jesse Quackenbush has been notified that his feature documentary, The Last Word is an “Official Selection” of the West Hollywood and Rhode Island International Film Festivals.

According to Quackenbush The Last Word has been recognized as the first documentary in America to establish convincingly that a criminally accused man has been executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The film re-examines the case of Johnny Frank Garrett, a mentally retarded teenage boy who was arrested, convicted and ultimately executed for the rape, mutilation and murder of a 76 year old nun on Halloween night 1981. Sister Tadea Benz was brutally attacked as she slept in her room at the St. Francis Convent in Amarillo, Texas.

Garrett claimed his innocence from the moment of his arrest until his dying breath. DNA evidence and admissions from the actual killer are revealed for the first time in the film. Adding a twist of horror, this documentary also reveals a curse Garrett cast on those responsible for his murder. The curse was written by Garrett in his final letter to “society.” The untimely and sometimes violent deaths of 20 people directly associated with Garrett’s case (including 5 suicides, 6 freak accidents and 7 rare cancers) are documented in the film. Quackenbush, who served as the films Writer, Director and Producer believes “the curse” is real and provides his reasons in Producer Comments at the film’s website.

The Last Word previously premiered at the Buffalo and Seattle International Film Festivals. The film is also an “Official Selection” at the Scottsdale & Eugene International Film Festivals in October. Discounted educational distribution is provided through National Film Network. DVD copies of the film are available through or at

Contact Info: Cinco Rosas Productions 512-963-0475

The next victim of the Texas “Death Machine” will be Larry Donell Davis, scheduled for execution on July 31, 2008. I was actually present at Mr. Davis’ trial in Amarillo when his Prosecutor committed an egregious mistake jeopardizing Mr. Davis’ chance for a fair trial. The Prosecutor, during closing argument, stalked over to Mr. Davis who was seated at counsel table and screamed “How can you find for this man who sits . . . silently . . . hiding behind his lawyer!”

This was a direct attack on Mr. Davis’ 5th Amendment right to remain silent and not have his silence counted against him. I testified at the Motion for New Trial about the reaction from three of the jurors, ranging from nodding heads of approval to gasps for air. The jury was clearly affected by the Prosecutor’s actions. The hang-em-high Judge, Sam Kaiser denied the Motion for New Trial in spite of his in chambers oral admonishment to the Prosecutor for potentially causing reversible error. I will learn soon if Mr. Davis has placed me on his witness list. If he decides to have me, I will attend and witness my first execution. I am also hoping to film Mr. Davis’ family as they prepare for and experience the execution. I hope to bring their misery to viewers in a future project.
Jesse QuackenbushDirector, The Last Word

The Last Word is an "Official Selection" of the following upcoming film festivals.
West Hollywood International Film Festival Regency Theatre 7907 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90048 July 29, 2008 @ 2:30 p.m. website Rhode Island International Film Festival Bell Street Chapel 5 Bell Street Providence, RI 02903 August 10, 2008 @ noon website Eugene International Film Festival October 3-5, 2008 website
Scottsdale International Film Festival October 3-7, 2008 website
The Last Word has participated in the following film festivals in 2008.
Buffalo Film Festival Seattle International Film Festival


1. Is the Death Penalty Legal in the United States?
After being suspended in 1972 because of a lack of national standards, the death penalty was declared constitutional (legal) again in 1976 with the provision that rigid statutes be used as a guide. Each state determines whether to permit the sentence of the death penalty. Thirty-six states currently have the death penalty. New Jersey became the first state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty in 2007. (DPIC)

2. Is it legal to execute juveniles or the mentally ill in the United States?
The Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for juveniles in 2005 and declared it illegal to execute defendants with mental retardation in 2002. (DPIC)

3. Is the Supreme Court currently considering the legality of the death penalty?
No, the Supreme Court is currently considering a very specific issue of whether the “3-drug cocktail” method of lethal injection constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” and would thus be unconstitutional. The Court held a hearing in January 2008 and is expected to make a ruling in spring 2008. (DPIC)

4. What is a moratorium?
A moratorium is a halt on executions for a certain time period. During a moratorium, detailed examinations of capital punishment laws and processes can take place. In a 2007 opinion poll by RT Strategies, 58% of respondents believed it was time for a moratorium on the death penalty, many of those supporting a moratorium also being supporters of the death penalty. (DPIC)

Death Row Executions
5. How many inmates are on Death Row?
In 2008 there are 3,263 inmates on Death Row, with the largest rows in California (609), Florida (388) and Texas (370). (DPIC)

6. How many people have been executed in the United States?
There have been 1,099 executions in the US since 1976, with a peak in 1999 of 98 executions. The largest number of executions since 1976, 405, took place in Texas, with 26 of those occurring in 2007. (DPIC)

7. What countries are responsible for the most executions worldwide?
In 2006 91% of all known executions took place in six countries: China (1,010), Iran (177), Pakistan (82), Iraq (65+), Sudan (65+), U.S. (53). American and Japan are the only post- industrial nations that impose the death penalty. (DPIC)

8. Don’t most people in the U.S. support the Death Penalty?
The percentage of Americans in support of the death penalty peaked in the mid-1990s. According to Pew Research Center surveys, support for the death penalty for persons convicted of murder has fluctuated within a relatively narrow range of 62% of 68% since 2001, while opposition has ranged from 24% to 32% during this time. A Pew survey from August 2007 finds that 62% of Americans favor the death penalty, while 32% oppose it and 6% are unsure. (DPIC)
9. How much does the death penalty cost tax payers?

According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the estimated cost of single death penalty cases from arrest to execution ranges from $1 to $3 million, compared to an estimated cost of life imprisonment, including incarceration cost of $500,000. The estimated average cost of a death penalty case in TX, according to The Dallas Morning News is $2.3 million. (DPIC)

10. What methods of execution are currently used in the United States?
36 of the states with the death penalty use lethal injection for executions. In 2008 Nebraska, the only state that used the electric chair as the exclusive form of execution, outlawed the use of the electric chair. Some states utilizing lethal injection have other methods available as back-ups. (DPIC)

11. What is the “3-drug cocktail”?
A form of execution by lethal injection that involves three separate injections. The inmate is injected with sodium thiopental – an anesthetic, which puts the inmate to sleep. Next flows pavulon or pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the entire muscle system and stops the inmate’s breathing. Finally, the flow of potassium chloride stops the heart. Death results from anesthetic overdose and respiratory and cardiac arrest while the condemned person is unconscious. (DPIC)

Wrongful Convictions and Exonerations
12. How many people have been released from death row?
Since 1973 over 120 people were released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000- 2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year. (DPIC)

13. Is there any proof that an innocent person has been executed?
Until now, there has never been "uncontroverted proof" that an innocent person has been executed. No forum or legal standard exists for establishing such proof. However there is considerable evidence that other innocent persons have been executed. Cameron Willingham, executed in 2004 in Texas, is one such case. After examining evidence from Willingham’s prosecution, four national arson experts concluded that fire that Willingham was convicted of starting, was accidental. There are many other cases where significant doubts about guilt arose after a person’s execution, such as the case of Carlos DeLuna.

14. Do Americans believe those killed are guilty?
Three-quarters of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed within recent years and that convictions is resulting in lower levels of support for the death penalty, according to a 2005 study by the University of Cincinnati and Radford University. When life in prison without the possibility of parole was offered as an alternative sentence for capital murder, less than half of all Americans who believe an innocent person has been executed supported the death penalty.

15. Do most Christians support the death penalty?
Some of the most recent data focusing on religion and the death penalty has looked at the views of Christians, a group that comprises over three quarters of the American population. According to a 2004 Gallop Poll, individuals who self-identify as Protestants are somewhat more likely to endorse capital punishment that are Catholics and far more likely than those with no religious preference. The poll found that more than 7 of 10 Protestants (71%) support the death penalty, while 66% of Catholics support it and that 57% of those with no religious preference favor the death penalty for murder. A 2005 Zogby poll revealed that only 48% of Catholics now support the death penalty. A recent poll by found that two thirds of active Christians who oppose the death penalty are concerned about judicial error that could lead to an innocent person being executed. The poll also found that of Christians who support the death penalty, 60% do so because of biblical teachings. According to a 2007 Pew Forum poll, the strongest supporters of the death penalty are white evangelicals, with 74% approval.
16. What are the official stances of religious organizations on the death penalty?

According to the American Friends Service Committee’s Criminal Justice Program, which maintains a list of faith and ethical group that are opposed to the death penalty, many groups are officially opposed to capital punishment, including American Baptists, American Ethical Union, American Friends Service Committee, America Jewish Committee, The Bruderhof Communities, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Church Women United, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends United Meeting, General Conference of General Baptists, General Conference of Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church, Moravian Church in America, Orthodox Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Rabbinical Assembly, Reformed Church in America, Reorganized Church, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and the United States Catholic Conference. The Southern Baptists and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have not taken a public position on the issue of capital punishment. The Qur’an supports the death penalty, but there is a strong tradition of mercy within the faith.

Texas Moratorium Networkwebsite email
Texas Students Against the Death Penaltywebsite email
Lamp of Hope Projectwebsite email
Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penaltywebsite email
The Death Penalty Information Centerwebsite email
The Advocates for Human Rightswebsite email
Citizens United for Alternative to the Death Penalty (CUADP)website email
Ohioans to Stop Execution (OTSE)website email
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)website email
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penaltywebsite email
Fight the Death Penalty in USAwebsite email
Catholics Against Capital Punishment (CACP)website email
Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penaltywebsite email
Wisconsin Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP)website email
Campaign to End the Death Penaltywebsite email
Coloradans Against the Death Penaltywebsite email
The Moratorium Campaignwebsite email
New Yorkers Against the Death Penaltywebsite email
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penaltywebsite email
Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penaltywebsite email
United States Against the Death Penaltywebsite email
The Peace Farmwebsite email
New England Death Penaltywebsite email

Interviews from Texas' Death Row.
Condemned prisoners facing imminent execution share their "Last Words" and thoughts each month.


Michael Pearce said...

Thanks for this.
I recently finished a major painting of a the crucifixion as a lynching. The statistics you have published here about the support of the death penalty by Christians scare me, because of the disregard for the instruction not to kill. Disturbing stuff.
I thought folks who are Christians and opposed to the death penalty might be interested to see the painting.

pearce said...

The link didn't work properly so here it is again: