The NCADP sat down with Maggie Stogner and Richard Stack. Stogner is a seasoned documentary filmmaker who has previously written, directed, and produced films for National Geographic as well as traveling multimedia exhibits for the Smithsonian. She is also a professor at American University’s School of Communication. Stack, who has previously worked for our organization, has written two books on the death penalty and its shortcomings: D
ead Wrong and Grave Injustice. These books largely make the innocence case for death penalty abolition; that is, they recognize that states frequently execute men and women who are posthumously found to be innocent. Stack is also a professor at American University’s School of Communication.
This year, Maggie Stogner and Richard Stack will premiere their film In the Executioner’s Shadow. This film centers on people whose lives grew focused around capital punishment and the ethical questions it raises. They profile Vicki and Syl Schieber, a Maryland couple whose daughter, Shannon, was raped and murdered in Philadelphia. In the film, the Schiebers recount how they struggled to forgive the man who murdered Shannon. Stogner and Stack also interview Karen Brassard, a Boston resident. Brassard, her husband, her daughter and her best friend were all hospitalized after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Karen candidly expresses her feelings as the perpetrator, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, goes to trial. Finally the directors talk to Jerry Givens, who conducted 62 executions for the state of Virginia.
For all of those profiled, capital punishment, which for many seems distant and irrelevant, becomes personal. It raises for them weighty questions, ranging from “what does it mean to take a life?” to “what is true justice?” St
ack told us that he grew interested in film after seeing Tim Robbins’ Dead Man Walking, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Robbins adapted Dead Man Walking from the memoir of the same name written by Sister Helen Prejean, who was a spiritual advisor to two men on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Much like Sister Prejean in her book, Stack and Stogner hope that In the Executioner’s Shadow prompts conversations of the death penalty and its ethical permissibility. After all, “what does it say about the United States that we champion freedom and human rights yet also kill our own citizens?” asks Stogner. Moreover, the two hope that their film offers balance. Those prosecutors, judges, and citizens that favor the death penalty by no means underestimate the gravity of the topic. For that reason, Stogner and Stack hope, ultimately, that their film will spark dialogues between individuals who disagree so that we might work toward a more fair, transparent, and righteous criminal justice system.
View the trailer and learn more about the film here.