Piece Comment

Review of Witness to an Execution

"You'll never hear another sound like a mother wailing whenever she's watching her son being executed," says reporter Leighanne Gideon. "There's no other sound like it. That wail surrounds the room." At the time this documentary was recorded, Gideon had watched Texas kill inmates on 52 separate occasions. ?Witness to an Execution? weaves the harrowing tales of reporters, prison guards, the warden and others who have observed or participated in state-sanctioned murder. Although Texas kills inmates by lethal injection instead of the rawer electrocution, the result is the same. One of the wonders of this documentary is that it doesn't get political, it doesn't state a position about the death penalty, it simply leads the listener through the process of an execution. One important step in that process is the action of the "tie-down" team. These are prison guards whose job it is to strap the inmate onto the gurney before lethal injection. Kenneth Dean, a member of the "tie-down" team says many inmates thank him after Dean has secured them into place. "After all the straps are done, they will look at you and say 'Thank you.' And here you've just strapped them into the (execution) table ... You know that's kind of a weird feeling." Dean believes in what he does, but another prison guard, Fred Allen, quit the job after the impact of dozens of executions left him in tears one day. Listening to Allen talk, however haltingly, is moving. There are many other great moments here, all worth airing.