Friday, October 31, 2008
How on earth can a pro-capital punishment crusader and a death row inmate be friends?
That question pulses at the center of ROBERT BLECKER WANTS ME DEAD, an often disturbing, sometimes funny, documentary film about passion, murder, and the American death penalty.
Robert Blecker is one of the country’s most impassioned crusaders for capital punishment. A self-described “emotive retributivist,” Blecker teaches at the New York Law School in lower Manhattan. From there he conducts his one-man crusade to save capital punishment from the mounting wave of moratoriums and death-row commutations. Blecker teaches that death is the only just penalty for “the worst of the worst” – the small fraction of the nation’s convicted murderers who have surrendered their right to live by the irredeemable viciousness of their crime. His credo is: “Some people deserve to die, and we have an obligation to kill them.”
Daryl Holton is one of those people. In 1997, Holton shot his four children to death with an assault rifle in Shelbyville, Tennessee. For these crimes, he was given four separate death sentences.
In ROBERT BLECKER WANTS ME DEAD, we see the two men meet during Blecker’s 2005 research trip to Riverbend maximum-security prison outside Nashville.
While chatting with Holton in an impromptu interview, Blecker discovers to his shock that this multiple murderer not only possesses a keen legal mind and a wry sense of humor, but that Holton has declined to file any of his permitted appeals, and seems to invite his own execution with a mixture of calm and even courage. The two men discover a strange philosophical kinship.
So begins this puzzling and engrossing relationship. For the next year and a half – by phone, by mail and even the occasional visit – the condemned man and the scholar warily spar with one another through a roller-coaster of death-watches, postponements and court-ordered stays, all the while exploring together the meaning of mercy, justice, and the morality of the death penalty.
But the clock is ticking down toward Holton’s last moment, when Tennessee’s electric chair will grimly test both Holton’s apparent certainty, and Blecker’s dedication to his lethal theory of justice…