ART IMITATES DEATH ROW LIFE
Tulane University Hullabaloo
By: Misty Choate Soto
Issue date: 4/27/07 Section: News
"I forgive you," mumbles the condemned man to the warden just seconds before the warden orders his death. This scene in the movie "Execution" resounds clearly in the life of one of its actors.
William Neil Moore, who played the condemned man in the 90 minute documentary film, was himself convicted of robbery and murder and spent 16 years on Ga.'s death row awaiting execution.
Hosted by the Tulane University Criminal Law Society, "Execution," the film which Moore starred in, made its world premiere at McAlister Auditorium on April 10. During the forum that followed, Moore told the crowd of approximately 700 how he got a stay of execution just seven hours before he was due to be placed in the electric chair.
"Not that there was any new information in my case," he said. "They stopped it, I was put back in my cell, and the guards said 'We will get you next time.'"
In 1974, Moore went to the home of an Army friend. After the two men were drunk, the man encouraged Moore to rob the man's uncle.
According to Moore, the uncle heard him and fired a shotgun through a crack in his bedroom door. In a panic, Moore returned fire.
Moore opened the door all the way and pulled the string of an overhead light to find the body of the man's uncle dead, face down.
When Moore's court-appointed attorney advised him to waive his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, a Ga. judge tried Moore, who was 22 years old at the time, for the crimes of armed robbery and capital murder.
After being found guilty of the crimes he was charged of and spending 16 years on death row in a Ga. state prison, Moore was placed in a cell on "death watch" for what should have been his last 72 hours of life. Seven hours before he was due to be executed, the board of pardons and paroles granted Moore a stay of execution.
When Moore's case went to the parole board, the victim's family who started writing him in 1979 spoke on his behalf. "They went to the parole board and said 'he [Moore] is our friend,'" said Moore. "'You cannot execute him.'"
"You talk about the power of forgiveness and the power of love," Moore said. "The same people that I had offended forgave me and went to the parole board on my behalf."
After gathering the support of Rev. Jessie Jackson and Mother Theresa, who according to Moore told the chairman of the parole board that "he needed to do what Jesus would do," the U.S. Supreme Court granted Moore a 30-day stay of execution in 1990.
The board of pardons and paroles then commuted Moore's sentence from death to life in prison. Moore was told that he would not be eligible for parole for 25 years and that if he was released on parole he would never get off of parole; however, 13 months later he was released on parole.
"This past April the 28th ," said Moore, "the parole board has completely let me off of parole."
Moore's case marks the first time in the state of Ga. where the State Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the sentence of a person who was guilty and plead guilty. Consequently, Moore is also the only man in this country that was convicted of a capital crime and is now a free man.
Most recently, in 2005, the United Sates Supreme Court ruled that the execution of a person who had committed their crimes after having reached the age of 18 is constitutional.
The turmoil that those individuals who face capital punishment go through while on death row is a story which, for the most part, has gone untold until the premiere of "Execution."
"Execution was just an idea eight years ago and here we are tonight," Steven Scaffidi said at the premier. Then, Scaffidi, the director, promised attendees that they would have "a lot" of questions after the film.
The film, which follows two documentary filmmakers who are chronicling what life is like in prison, leaves viewers to question what is real and what is fictionalized.
A few minutes into the film, their documentary becomes focused on one death-row inmate and his execution that is only a week away.
The condemned man, played by Moore who has himself said, "When I found out that I had actually killed somebody, I couldn't believe it, I felt sick, as if a part of me had died," expresses discontent for his actions.
Awaiting his death, the condemned man says, "I loved my mother, she worked like a dog, everything she did, she did for other people and she deserved better that what she had."
The film goes on to show the step-by-step process of how an electric chair execution is carried out.
"The feedback has been tremendous and has pushed many buttons which may make some people uncomfortable," Scaffidi said. However, Scaffidi insists that the idea behind the film is to raise awareness about capital punishment, not to change anyone's mind about how they already feel.
"The bottom line is that the event was a great learning experience for all who were there," he said.
Not only did the film star a man who had actually been on death row, it starred a real life warden, Dr. Donald Cabana a former warden and director of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and priest, Rev. Joel LaBauve who served as chaplain to Louisiana's maximum-security penitentiary at Angola and has ministered to hundreds of death-row inmates.
"The fact the audience had the chance to sit face to face with a real condemned man, a real warden and a real priest who actually had experienced death row and the execution process was powerful and gave students and other audience members a chance to hear from people who have actually been there rather than some actor who is playing a role," Scaffidi said.
"People told me after the screening that the film was the most realistic view of death row and the execution process that they have ever seen," said Scaffidi. However, he refuses to reveal which parts are real and which are fictionalized.
"Many asked if the execution scene was actually real and I told them it was for them to decide," he said.
As for the real life condemned man, Moore who has said, "One day I was so dangerous that I could not leave my cell without leg irons and handcuffs, the next day they let me off death row," now lives in Rome, Ga. with his wife.
"No one is beyond redemption," said Moore, who regularly speaks at universities across the United States to raise awareness about the tribulations of the death penalty, "not even people on death row."