On Jan. 16, 2004, the state of Ohio executed Dennis McGuire using an untested cocktail of lethal injection drugs. The result was an execution that lasted nearly 30 minutes and left witnesses aghast at what they had seen.
That execution and the litigation surrounding it is one of the storylines featured in a new documentary film, The Penalty, directed by Will Francome and Mark Pizzey. Recently, Francome and a team of activists traveled around Ohio to screen the film — with three stops in Cincinnati, including one at Xavier University last Wednesday evening.Director Will Francome fields questions from the audience after a screening of The Penalty. (Allison Smith Cohen)
“Ohio plays such a big part in the film,” says Francome. “We really wanted to bring it here to show the people of the state the unknown story of the litigation around lethal injection.”
The tour was co-hosted by two nonprofits, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center and Ohioans to Stop Executions. IJPC is committed to end local and global systems of injustice; OTSE is a statewide nonprofit group with a mission to reduce the use of capital punishment in Ohio, and eventually repeal it completely.
The Penalty not only focuses on the many problems with lethal injection, but also dives into issues of innocence and the difficulties faced by the families of murder victims. The film centers on three narratives: the story of a man trying to put his life back together after being freed from death row; a murder victim's family’s journey through the legal process; and the efforts of an Ohio attorney to keep his client alive, which ultimately culminated in the botched execution of Dennis McGuire.
“We filmed other stories as part of the film and these stories demanded to be the main focus," says Francome. "They were very compelling, and what makes this film good is that these characters are fighters that really go through something.”
The film's release and the subsequent tour is timely for a Cincinnati man, Raymond Tibbetts, who is scheduled to be executed on Feb. 13. Tibbetts is currently seeking clemency from Governor Kasich, an effort that’s being promoted by OTSE via an online petition.
“It’s an important time to show the film — I just hope that people think about the death penalty and consider what’s being done here,” Francome says.
Abe Bonowitz, an organizer for OTSE, wants Cincinnati to pay attention to this issue and hopes The Penalty will start the discussion in the city. “The state is carrying out the ultimate authority of life in all of our names, and whether we agree with it or not, everybody wants to be sure the system is both fair and accurate. You can’t look at how the system functions and believe that it is either.”