Capital Punishment -Edward Earl Johnson Essay, Research Paper
Edward Earl Johnson was put in death row when he was eighteen. A documentary was made when he was twenty-six, called “fourteen days in May.” Edward claimed all along that he was innocent yet he was still executed. The documentary showed he had lived for eight years at the Parchment state penitentiary, Mississippi (death row.) Edward was put to death row for the attempted rape of an elderly white woman and the murder of a white Marshall. The documentary tried to show his innocence, the process of this is what this essay will be about.
The opening scenes from the documentary showed the Parchment State Penitentiary. You saw a large building inside of barbwire (sharp enough to have sliced you to bits). Inside of the building were hundreds of doors separated by metal doors. When you saw the prisoners cells, all of the prisoners were all standing with there hands reached out by which the camera tried to emphasise the point of “slavery.” You saw shots of the gas chamber, inside sat the chair Edward died in, with the belts that strapped him in. It showed most of the staff treating the prisoners like slaves, you see them working in lines digging in the fields with the staff watching over them on their horses with their whips. This just showed how little things have changed since slavery. A pep talk that the superintendent gave to workers about “off colour remarks” proves that there was racism at the Parchment Sate Penitentiary.
The documentary showed many of the interviews. The interview with Edward was long and detailed (behind bars, as was most of the interviews with him) so he could give his side of the story:
Edward said that eight years ago when he was first taken to the police station for an identification parade, the woman of the attempted rape said that she knew him and it was not him because it did not look like the guy who did it. He was then asked a few days later to take a lie detector test in Jackson which was a few miles away from his home town. According to Edward, the white Marshall’s stopped the van on a quiet country road, put a gun to his head and said that if he didn’t confess into the tape recorder, they would say they had shot him because he had tried to escape.
The way Edward said all this made him look innocent. The look on his face was distressed and he was uncomfortable. There were other interviews with Edwards fellow inmates. These interviews made them look gentle, thoughtful, intelligent people who believed in Edward’s innocence. Not one interview was with a person that claimed Edward was guilty except the superintendent. This interview was quite short. It took place in a car, so it was noisy which prevented it from having the atmosphere Edward’s interview had. Pictures of Edward made him out to be a kind, loving person who certainly did not deserve to die. The camera showed him playing chess, which indicated he was intelligent. They showed him playing basketball, which indicated he was fit and sporty. And they showed Edward with his family, which indicated he was a loving man who was devoted to his family.
All the time the documentary was putting a message across which basically said that a whole community was being bullied, that all black people were oppressed and oppression was built into their consciences.
As the last few days of Edward’s life came closer, the camera crew showed more detail about the way he was feeling and the process of the legal killing. Most of the staff spoke about how they were going to miss him and the way they had got closer to him over the years. Edward’s inmates spoke of how they were going to miss him and that he was innocent and did not deserve to die.
The staff at Parchment State Penitentiary started to test the gas that they were going to kill Edward with. They tested it on rabbits. You saw the rabbits distressed. It was awful. You also saw a real human being strapped to the seat and being locked in the gas chamber. This was to make sure the belts were secure and the heart rate and computer all worked. There was a man standing outside the door shouting to the man in the chair
“You’re gonna die,” and “how does it feel to know you’re gonna die in a few minutes?” The men looked as though they thought of it as one big joke. The whole process was really sick. It seemed so cold and inhumane.
On the day of Edwards’s execution, Edward was moved to a cell where he could be kept an eye on more easily. This man, Edward Earl Johnson was going through mental hell, yet he was remaining extremely calm. The staffs were a little worried about his sanity.
His family visited him for the last time. They all spoke to him normal; they ate shrimp, which apparently Edward had never had. Every last thing to try and prove Edwards’s innocence was done then, so many points were raised.
A phone call, which meant life or death for Edward, showed on his face that it was bad news. Everybody was upset. They all spoke their final words to Edward. Even the superintendent was upset, which you could tell by his speech. The camera does a great job in catching the tension of these last moments making us sympathise with Edward, sharing his agony.
As 12.00am got nearer, the atmosphere got more and more difficult. People began to get uncomfortable. Clive Stafford Smith, who was Edward’s lawyer, stayed with him right up until he went in the gas chamber. It was an emotional time for everyone and even the narrator of the documentary said his final words and wished him well from himself and the camera crew. Edward had a very strong belief in God and the reason why Edward was so calm before he died was because he believed he didn’t do anything wrong so therefore God was going to take him to a safe place once he was dead. Before he died he said he was glad it was all finally over and said he final goodbye. The camera really caught the emotion at this time and had many people with tears in their eyes. The emotion was there for a reason though. It really did make you wonder whether Edward Earl Johnson was guilty or not?
After Edward had left to go into the gas chamber, the camera showed the building with all the lights on. The superintendent came out and said
“Edward died at 12.06 this morning.”
The interview was then showed with the superintendent answering questions about Edwards’s death. You could see here that even though the superintendent thought Edward was guilty, he was very upset and had trouble getting his words out. After the superintendent had spoken, Edwards’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, came out and said to all the cameras and journalists:
“It’s a sick world out there and everyone is calm and collected but I am telling you something. I am not calm and I am not collected.”
The second documentary showed Clive Stafford Smith going back to Edwards home town to search for the truth. He believed that if he had tried to prove Edward’s innocence by attempting to find out who committed the crime rather than just saying he’s not innocent and trying to get him off the hook, he might of saved Edward from being executed.
All through the second documentary there were flashbacks from the first documentary-“fourteen days in May.” This was just reminding viewers of the way he was treated and what he went through those eight years he was on death row. Clive rang Sally Franklin, the woman who someone (!) attempted to rape. Sally refused to speak to Clive, when she found out who he was, but she obviously did not want to bring up the subject, which was understandable. No white people commented on the Edward Earl Johnson case except one white juror. She said that the reason she voted for him to be executed was because he kept smiling! Clive interviewed a black juror who seemed to be quite senile. He said that even to this day he has believed that Edward was innocent but if he had voted for him to not to be executed, he might have had a visit from the klu klux klan. All the other black people that were interviewed all held back when it came to talking about the “white.” Here a serious picture is being formed about racism.
Was Edwards’s trial a fair trial? He didn’t even have a chance to defend himself and the evidence was very small. There was no forensic evidence. A friend of Edward, a woman, came forward to say she was Edwards alibi for the time of the murder. Unfortunately a white man told her to get lost and mind her own business. The camera is very interested in this because it proved that Edwards’s trial was not fair and that racism (as in many cases) was involved.
When all the evidence pointed towards a man called Charles Coleman, Clive decided to take a visit. Coleman appears to be very defensive, he pretends not to know Edward at first. He couldn’t remember where he was on the night of the crime. He got quite aggressive at one point and said:
“Some people deserve to die,” and
:Some people should die of horrible deaths.”
Then there was laughter! He seemed to mention that he was a Vietnam veteran a lot, whenever death and killing came into it. The camera stays with Clive for the entire interview and when Clive comes out of Colemans flat he says
“That guy did it, he is the one”
The narrator of the documentary says
“You are very certain”
“Yes I am,” he replies.
By this point we all trust Clive Stafford Smith because of his enthusiasm and confidence in Edward and his extreme belief that Edward Earl Johnson really was not guilty through out both documentaries.
You see Edward’s memorial service with all his family, it is all very sad. With all the amount of flashbacks and talking to Edward’s family, I believe that not just Clive Stafford Smith, but also the camera crew all believed in Edward Earl Johnson’s innocence and that is why the documentary seems to be so anti-capital punishment. The way they are around Edwards’s family and how they were with Edward just shows why the documentary was made.
At the end of the sequel, Samual Johnson says
“I still try to love and care.” and
“Hate perpetinates hate!”
The only appeal was hope.
Both of these documentaries carried out the message:
“Innocent people can die.”
The statistic that came up on the screen many times:-
You are four times as likely to get the death sentence if you are a black who killed a white as a white man who is convicted of the same crime. If you were rich, you were more likely to get let off the death sentence more than a poor person was.
From the documentaries you could see that death row is a cruel place which is torture alone and not only does the prisoner suffer for the time he/she is in there but so does their family and friends who are behind them. It must be hard on the prison staffs who become close to them, at the end of their sentence they have to kill him/her.