by Maurice Chammah
I often forget in the course of the work we do that narratives surrounding the death penalty are not always the stories of those involved as direct participants. A unique set of famous cases take on a cultural life more a matter popular folklore than legal or social history. Many remember Gary Gilmore not for himself or the direct witnesses to his life, but rather for Tommy Lee Jones' depiction of him in the film The Executioner's Song. Randall Dale Adams shows up in the documentary about his wrongful conviction, Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line, but in that film Adams becomes an almost fictionalized protagonist, journeying through the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, the problems associated with the investigation of murder cases, and the corruption of Dallas' law enforcement. Karla Faye Tucker's life, in the media, has become the mythic story of competing forces of Born Again mercy and distrustful retribution. The cultural phenomenon fuels the story, invents holy grails (justice, innocence, madness, the death penalty itself), and follows the persona of the convicted through their trials and tribulations.