[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----ARK., ALA., MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 26 17:03:43 CDT 2004
The making of a monster
Though it's a film documenting the personal and emotional struggles within
heavy metal's biggest-selling band, "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" is
as much about the psychological therapy of acclaimed director Joe
Berlinger as it is of a quartet of rich rock stars.
Like the members of Metallica, the year prior to the making of the film
found Berlinger at a crossroads - on the outs with his filmmaking partner,
Bruce Sinofsky, and wondering if he'd ever work again.
"I was curled up in a ball on the floor of my office depressed and
literally thinking my career was over," says Berlinger. "It sounds
melodramatic, but I was in the depths of depression."
Berlinger's depression was spawned by his experience directing a film that
made most of its audience equally depressed - "Blair Witch 2" (2000), the
follow-up debacle to one of the defining films of the 1990s and a movie
that earned Berlinger arguably the worst reviews of the 2000s.
Still licking his wounds from the bitter "Blair Witch" trials, Berlinger
decided it was time to re-team with Sinofsky and return to their
documentary roots which, a decade before, had heralded them as one of the
promising filmmaking teams of the 1990s on the strength of such films as
"Brother's Keeper" (1992), about a mentally challenged outcast charged
with murdering his sibling; as well as "Paradise Lost" (1996) and
"Paradise Lost 2" (2000), where they followed the case of the West Memphis
Three, which found a trio of small-town teenage boys arrested for the
grisly murders of three children because of their fondness for heavy metal
music - namely that of Metallica.
Moved by the seeming injustice over the conviction of the West Memphis
Three, Metallica lent its music to the "Paradise Lost" soundtrack and,
impressed with the results of the film, opened to the possibility of
filming a Metallica documentary - an idea Berlinger was quick to resurrect
when it seemed his career was in shambles.
"I called (drummer) Lars (Ulrich) up and said, 'Hey Lars, we're having a
bit of a lull right now so before I get sucked into other stuff, is this a
good time to come do a film about you guys?'" Berlinger says. "And he
said, 'Well, (bassist) Jason (Newsted) is thinking about leaving and we've
got this guy coming in who's mediating whether Jason leaves or not. Why
don't you come film that?'"
It would be an understatement to say that Berlinger and Sinofsky arrived
at the band's San Francisco headquarters with the lowest of expectations.
"We initially approached the project as sort of a rock 'n' roll corporate
film," says Sinofsky. "While we always held out hope it would become
something more, we had no idea that Jason's departure was just the
beginning of the changes Metallica was about to go through."
Before they knew what was happening, Berlinger and Sinofsky found
themselves capturing the band's bizarre "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
style therapy sessions, the disappearance of singer James Hetfield into
months of drug rehab, and Ulrich's career tarnishing battle with the music
download Web site Napster.
What began as a rockumentary about the making of a new album was morphing
into a film about the tragic dissolution of the most popular band in heavy
"It was like the universe was speaking to us," says Berlinger. "And it was
saying, 'You've got to make this film.'"
The Marin IJ spoke with Berlinger about "Some Kind of Monster," his
disastrous "Blair Witch" sequel, and the impending fate of the West
Q: With such songs as "Sanitarium" and "The Frayed Ends of Sanity," is it
any surprise that Metallica needed therapy?
A: Exactly. And yet many people hear about it and are saying things like,
"Metallica going through therapy? What a bunch of wimps!"
Q: You began making a promotional film about the recording of the new
Metallica album and ended up with a feature film about a band engaged in
"learning to share" exercises with a performance enhancement coach. At
what point did you realize just how surreal the project was getting?
A: I don't know if it's surreal. They always wanted a more clips-driven
history of the band kind of film. We wanted to do a more personal film and
obviously that's what we ended up doing.
Q: Were all the band members in favor of the making of such a personal
A: Lars was interested in some sort of project. The rest of the guys
weren't thinking that they wanted or even needed a film. James (Hetfield)
in particular. It started when their management thought a clips-driven
movie would be good to market between albums, so while Metallica was in
hiatus they would have something to air, almost like an infomercial to
help sell products.
Q: Were you a Metallica fan prior to working with them?
A: I like these guys and I like their music, but it's not like I'm some
mega fan. I appreciated who they were. But sitting there with these guys
dealing with the same issues Bruce and I were going through as a team was
just incredible. I felt that regardless of where this thing heads or if it
just ends up on some shelf somewhere, just me being here is one of those
incredible moments in my life, because Berlinger and Sinofsky were having
the same issues as Hetfield and Ulrich. It was just really cool.
Q: The bulk of your troubles seemed to stem from "Blair Witch 2." How did
that film turn out so unbelievably bad?
A: It was a total disaster. It was very painful. I had pitched the studio
on doing this edgy adult satire. You know - making fun of the whole idea
of doing a sequel. And everyone agreed that that would be a good approach.
So I wrote a satire, I shot a satire, I delivered a satire. And at the
12th hour the studio lost its will and decided they were going to morph it
into a teen slasher movie. So a very flawed movie was thrown out into the
Q: The reviews were savage. Do you take criticism well?
A: The criticism was very harsh, universally reviled. Except in Germany,
Q: Great. They like you and David Hasselhoff.
A: I guess so. But it was just a hate-fest in general. A lot of it was
directed toward me because I had made these very intellectually regarded
documentaries and had gotten such nice reviews and awards. Now it was
like, Berlinger, you crass sellout! How dare you sell your ideas down the
river to make such commercial drivel!
Q: At least you could still count on the Germans.
A: One of the great lessons out of that whole experience is, don't believe
the critics when they're telling you you're great, as they did with
"Brothers Keeper" and "Paradise Lost." And certainly don't believe them
when they're telling you you're a piece of (junk). You should not take
your validation from critics. But I hadn't learned that lesson yet. I was
seeking my validation from critics.
Q: Your journey toward filming "Some Kind of Monster" began when the West
Memphis Three teenagers of "Paradise Lost" were charged with murder and
deemed satanists because they listened to Metallica. Are you surprised
some segments of society still fear rock music?
A: They have not backed away (from the idea) that this was a satanic
killing and that Damien (Echols, who is currently sitting on death row)
was into the occult because he listened to Metallica and wore black
T-shirts and died his hair black and wore pentagrams. It's unbelievable.
Q: Will the West Memphis Three ever be freed?
A: Well, I'm not sure. I'd say it's about 50-50. But the end of the story
is probably in sight. At the state level, basically all of Damien's
options have expired. It comes down to whether he can get a hearing in a
federal court. If he can't, then that's it and the execution date will be
Q: "Paradise Lost," "Brothers Keeper" and now "Some Kind of Monster" all
deal, in one way or another, with outcasts. Are you particularly attracted
to society's perceived pariahs?
A: We love looking into American subcultures and breaking down
stereotypes. "Brother's Keeper" broke down stereotypes about peoples'
humanity not being based on their possessions. "Paradise Lost"
dramatically challenged my view of the death penalty. And with this film
Metallica felt trapped by their image and they were ready to let people
know who they really are.
Q: On half the high school desks in this country, some dude's carved the
phrase "Metallica rules!" Do they?
A: Metallica definitely rules.
(source: The Marin Independent Journal
Man has 2nd life, family, new cause
The sun has just set, and a weary girl in a softball uniform drags into
the house where Gary Drinkard lives. She laments her poor performance at
bat - 5 strikeouts. He patiently listens.
In small north Alabama towns, the scene is as common as the chirping
crickets in Drinkard's back yard. But it's something he nearly missed out
Drinkard was locked up 8 years, most of it on death row, after being
convicted in 1995 of the murder of a junk car dealer in Morgan County. He
was acquitted at a second trial and freed in 2001.
Since then, he has tried to rebuild a life, as he's rebuilt the home he
shares with fiancee Susan Roberson and her softball-loving 13-year-old,
Susan "is feisty. She's beautiful. She's a country girl. I like all that,"
said Drinkard, 49. He is trim, 6-foot-3 with short gray hair and a neon
Star Wars Band-Aid on one finger to cover a construction scrape. "She's
short," he says, a wide grin covering his leathery face.
An alumnus of a 5-by-8 cell with metal fixtures, Drinkard now lives in a
house decorated with ceramic figurines, crocheted doilies and silk
flowers. Roberson's Better Homes and Gardens magazines are fanned out on
an ottoman. The couple grows tomatoes and peppers in the yard. A
cross-stitch sampler on their back porch reads "Love Makes a House a
It's a simple country life - but a gift from heaven to a man who emerged
Drinkard, an obsessive jail-cell letter writer, went free only after
persuading a team of top-notch defense attorneys to take on his appeal,
without charge. His 1st lawyer was court-appointed because he could not
Decatur attorney John Mays was part of the team that represented Drinkard
in his 2nd trial. "They reached a not guilty verdict in less than 5
minutes," Mays said.
Afterward, 2 jurors told him the jury stayed out another hour and 45
minutes out of respect for the dead man's family. "They talked about
sports and the weather," Mays said.
After Drinkard's release, "The first couple of days, I was scared to
death. I thought they were going to take it back somehow. I thought they
were going to try anything. The police lied so much on the 1st trial, I
was extremely paranoid," he said.
Police had fingered Drinkard on the suggestion of his stepsister, who was
angry with him. It later emerged that she was trying to get reduced
charges on her own crimes, and a tape she recorded of him had been
altered, according to trial testimony.
His 2nd team of attorneys also produced new alibi witnesses. He was
cleared, but authorities never pursued charges against anyone else.
Former life gone:
When Drinkard returned to this section of the state, a mostly rural fringe
of counties bordering Tennessee, his old life was impossible to salvage.
"I lost the land I had. I lost a marriage, failed to see my babies grow
up," he said.
A son and daughter, grown now, were 6 and 9 when he was jailed. "I've come
to realize there will always be some type of distance because of those
years we were apart," Drinkard said. "That kills me because my children
meant more than anything in the world."
He and his ex-wife tried to stay together. But, "I figured I was going to
die down there, and I encouraged her to get a life of her own. It was hard
to do. But I knew she'd be better off than waiting around," he said.
Angry, jobless and doughy from inactivity, Drinkard first went home to his
mother in Holly Pond.
He worked odd jobs for about 6 months, met an interesting therapist, then
decided to go back to college and study respiratory therapy.
He loved Wallace State Community College. He did especially well in a
speech class where his death row story packed quite a punch.
"But then, when I applied for a job, they did a background check. I never
could get a job, so I quit," he said.
Potential employers in the medical field did not want to take a chance on
this lanky fellow with a capital murder arrest in his past.
So he fell back into construction work, not his first choice. But he has
to work, has to contribute to his new family. He's hired on with some
house framers. "With stick framers, you don't have to fill out an
application. I don't have to tell them I was released after being put on
He still worries about what could befall him if he's pulled over in
another state, if background check records are incomplete, and do not
include exonerations. "I'll probably get thrown to the ground, handcuffed,
and I'll have to give a long, drawn-out explanation." he said.
Roberson, 37, a landscaper, says her family was shocked when they learned
about her new beau's background. But it's never alarmed her. "He's been a
great person," she said. "The way he listens to someone talk, he doesn't
always judge everything."
A new cause:
With his background in construction, Drinkard renovated an old home for
them a couple miles off Interstate 65: new walls, fresh paint, a spacious
A new life.
And a cause.
When he can afford it, Drinkard travels to anti-death penalty conventions.
He's spoken at places from Washington, D.C., to John Carroll High School
Before his conviction, Drinkard supported capital punishment. "I believed
that if somebody raped or killed a woman, or especially killed a child,
they should get the death penalty," he said.
Now he says a better option is life without parole - locked up. "You
actually suffer every day. In some fashion, you suffer every day."
And he knows he should forgive the people whose dishonesty sent him to
prison. But forgiveness is slow, maybe slower than justice.
"The Bible teaches we should forgive our enemies and actually pray for
them. But I'm not that strong yet," Drinkard said, his voice slow, his
"I should get over it. I've tried to get over it. I try every day."
Randal Padgett - Three and a half years on Death Row -- Brush with stars
preceded poultry farm
>From the pictures, it almost looks like Randal Padgett went from death row
There's a snapshot, framed at Padgett's house, of him with Danny Glover.
Another with Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
This was in October 2000 at the New York premiere of "The Exonerated," a
play about falsely convicted Americans freed from death row. And Padgett's
story, a tortured chapter about a self-proclaimed good ol' boy from
Marshall County, earned a place in the spotlight.
Robbins portrayed Padgett. Sarandon played his wife, Brenda, whose
advocacy helped free him in 1997. He'd been incarcerated 5 years, 3 1/2 on
After the play, Robbins approached them to make sure his portrayal was on
target, that Padgett wasn't mad. "Naw, why should I be mad?" Padgett
asked. Robbins, as it turned out, just wanted to make sure he hadn't
overdone the Southern drawl.
A lightness, joy almost, comes over Randal and Brenda Padgett as they
reminisce about that rare, sweet glimpse of glamour in a hard-fought
return to the free world, a world that's not sure how to handle men like
Padgett and his fraternity of the once-condemned.
Padgett, who had no prior arrests, was convicted of killing his former
wife, Cathy Padgett. She was stabbed multiple times and raped in her home
outside Guntersville. An appeals court granted him a new trial after it
emerged that prosecutors unlawfully withheld exculpatory evidence. He was
acquitted the second time when defense attorneys showed strong evidence
pointing to someone else as the killer. Lawmen never pursued another
Older, deeper in debt
At 47, Padgett returned home to rural Marshall County, moved in with his
mother and started over with little more than his life. Eight years out of
prison, and he remains deep in debt.
Freedom had cost more than $200,000.
These days, the Padgetts' livelihood is tied up in the health and welfare
of 86,000 baby chickens. Padgett is a poultry farmer, a second career he
began before he was imprisoned and fell back into when no one would hire
him with a murder conviction, even a bogus one.
The Census Bureau almost took him on for temporary work. He aced the test,
then explained his peculiar circumstances. "A week later, I got a letter
back that said the FBI has a felony arrest record on you, and we can't
hire anybody like you," Padgett said.
So when crazy weather hits, as it often has this summer, Randal and Brenda
Padgett hop into their Jeep Liberty and wind through the green countryside
to six aging chicken houses.
"It's stinky, but it's our life," says Brenda, a bubbly Bonnie Raitt
Yet Padgett considers himself one of the lucky ones. He owned land, a
farm, a home so he could pay for his own lawyers. He mortgaged, then
eventually sold his property to pay for his defense.
And he had Brenda.
They were co-workers at a factory that makes electrical switches,
acquaintances barely, when he was arrested. Always one with a heart for
the underdog, she believed he was innocent and began praying lengthy,
Brenda also organized a support group of his friends, raised money at a
yard sale and set up a reward hot line. Now they refer to those dark years
at Holman prison as "when he left," or "when he was on vacation."
Both 54, she calls him babe, he thinks she's beautiful. They married last
year in Gatlinburg.
Their families were suspicious of this love.
"I would have never chosen this," Brenda said. "Because in my opinion, if
you did something wrong and they convicted you, then you're guilty and you
need to be there."
She believes God was guiding her. "I wanted to do for his children, and
his mother - what I hope somebody would do for me if I was in the same
Her son is a police officer, and her opinions typically fall on the
conservative side, so this has been a strange leap of faith for Brenda
Padgett. "My son, he lectures me, 'Mother, not everybody is innocent. Not
everybody is in jail for the same reasons that Randal was,'" she says.
Padgett interrupts, speaking in halting sentences that she often
completes, "People have got to realize, there are a few . . ." he says.
She finishes, "Innocent people."
"After I went through what I went through, I think there might be more
than a few, because it's easy to get convicted for something that you
didn't do," Padgett said.
Now an advocate
Like other men in this group, men who had relatively carefree middle-class
lives, Padgett feels driven to speak out about his experiences. The couple
has traveled to death penalty conferences in Florida, New York, Chicago.
Sometimes he wonders why he bothers. "I don't know that I'm doing any
good, but I guess it appeases my heart to do whatever I can do. . . . If I
can save one other person from going through what I went through," Padgett
Alabama's lack of a public-defender system and the deficiencies in
court-appointed lawyers are especially troubling to Padgett. The costs of
his first trial left him indigent for the second one. On death row, he
heard horror stories about court-appointed attorneys. Then he met his own.
"He told me, 'I don't want this case. This case is a burden to me, said I
got a family to feed and I'm not going to make any money, maybe a couple
thousand dollars on this case. I got to put my time in on cases where I'm
going to make money,'" Padgett recalled.
That's when his mother, at age 78, mortgaged her house and they hired
Birmingham attorney Richard Jaffe, whose efforts have freed two other
Death Row convicts.
"And so I'm still paying $527 a month . . . on mom's mortgage," Padgett
Padgett's children were 6 and 11 when he was locked up. His daughter, an
Auburn student, just got engaged. His son graduated from Auburn's
architecture program and is married and employed in Nashville. "I'm going
to be a grandpa," Padgett said.
Life goes on, where it almost ended.
Walter 'Johnny D.' McMillian - 6 years on Death Row -- Freed junkyard man
now lives for his cars
Walter "Johnny D." McMillian lives amidst an automobile graveyard. He
could have been dead and buried in a real one.
Dented Mavericks, a Gremlin, doorless vans, rusted truck bodies, Chevys
from every decade surround his trailer, a sea of broken-down machinery
whose spare parts are McMillian's livelihood. The first Alabama man to be
freed from Death Row is now the junk man for much of Monroe County.
"I just love junk cars. I love to fool with cars," McMillian said,
sweat-soaked and resting in the shade after a morning of work.
In McMillian's experience, Monroe County justice is about as reliable as
the sorriest clunker on his hill. "Everyone knew I was falsely accused.
There wasn't no question about that. I was cooking fish at my sister's
house," he said.
Despite an alibi, a volatile mix of lies, racism and overly aggressive
lawmen combined to convict McMillian of capital murder 16 years ago. So
insistent were authorities that McMillian killed a girl, they took the
unusual step of sending him to Holman Prison's death row before his trial.
"They got the warden to cooperate and take him, and left him there 15
months before he was convicted," said Bryan Stevenson, an attorney whose
work freed McMillian in 1993.
He spent 6 years condemned to die.
His appeal uncovered evidence that the sheriff coerced and paid the
witnesses who placed McMillian's truck at the scene, and that
investigators pressured witnesses to lie and illegally hid evidence from
the defense. Once his first conviction was tossed out, prosecutors dropped
the case. Whoever killed 18-year-old Ronda Morrison went free.
McMillian returned to this lush pocket of family land, a place he farmed
as a youth. It's down 2 miles of cotton fields and winding red clay called
Beaver Pond Road from the nearest 2-lane highway, Alabama 84.
Yet anyone in need of a used transmission or a Buick door seems to find
Johnny D. Business is steady. "Just about everybody around here knows me .
. . black or white . . . 'You know where Johnny live at?' 'Yeah, go over
there, go yonder, go across that bridge, he down there,'" McMillian said.
He is prone to rambling tales about friends - usually described as either
white friend or black friend - and lawyers and cars, always cars. They are
what make him happy.
There has been a book written about his case, and television appearances.
Yet he remains tireless in talking about his perilous road to freedom.
"It's been a struggle for him, but I think he has worked incredibly hard,"
said Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a crusader
against capital punishment.
Hard work has been a constant in McMillian's life. "I'm going to tell you
the truth, I worked since I was 12, 13 years old. I used to farm all this
land with a mule, you know. Work, work, work, work." He's worked in a feed
mill, furniture factory, Louisiana fishing boat, and finally as a
pulpwooder cutting and hauling trees - grueling work, bone-breaking work.
Literally. He took it up again after his release and broke his neck when a
tree fell on him in 1995.
Also since his release, his wife left him, and the oldest of his 3
children died in a car accident.
Many people expect him to be bitter about those years lost in prison. "I
understand that. But I ain't never been somebody to make a mess, get
something going. After I got arrested and had time to sit down and think,
I thought this might be a rest period for me," McMillian said.
The Bible, letters and basketball were his lifelines in prison. All
followed him home. His Bible, soft and worn and with his favorite
Scriptures highlighted, still holds a Psalms quote written on stationery
labeled "State of Alabama Department of Corrections." A neatly typed
letter is folded into another book. It's dated May 10, 1993, and addressed
To Whom it May Concern, re: Walter McMillian. "He is making preparations
to relocate and start his life again, and I wanted to assure you that he
is a responsible and reliable person with whom to make financial
agreements and arrangements."
Stevenson wrote the letter for McMillian. McMillian says he's never had to
use it because everyone around here trusts him.
Basketball, played on death row during 1-hour breaks from his cell, stayed
At 62, McMillian is agile and wiry, running the court with nephews half
Before the capital murder charge, McMillian had one arrest, for marijuana
He's since been pulled over twice. Once for DUI, and once for speeding.
The cop who pulled him over for speeding looked at his license and asked
if he was the innocent man who spent all that time in prison. "Yeah, I'm
him," McMillian said he told him.
"Go!" the cop said. And McMillian throws his hands into the air wildly and
laughs his hearty laugh.
Monroe County Sheriff Tommy Tate, who pursued the charges against
McMillian, is still sheriff. Former District Attorney Ted Pearson, who
prosecuted the case, has retired.
McMillian received a small settlement in a civil suit against his
accusers. The courts sealed the amount. It was a little to get his
business going, and to add a shiny white Lincoln Town Car to his
In this struggling place, McMillian's freedom means low-wage workers like
Gene Stallworth have a cheap source of parts to keep their vehicles going.
Stallworth, a longtime friend who once helped with fish fries to raise
money for McMillian's defense, found a trunk latch at the junk yard for
his 14-year-old Lumina.
McMillian's troubles have taught Stallworth to be wary of police. "Instead
of them watching you, you're watching them, seeing if they're going to put
something in the car," Stallworth said.
But McMillian has moved beyond his once-doomed past. "I rarely even think
about it," he said. "I try to put it in my back pocket, put it behind me
and keep trying to live."
In the next few hours, he will go to the basketball court down the road,
where his nephews will be waiting.
He's got a game to play.
(source for all: The Birmingham News, July 25)
Another Maryland Death Row Case Goes Before Supreme Court
Another Maryland death row case could soon go before the U.S. Supreme
Lawyers for Vernon Evens are asking the country's highest court to review
his sentence for the murders of 2 motel workers 21 years ago in Baltimore
Prosecutors say it would be the last avenue of appeal for Evans. Last
week, the state's Court of Appeals denied his latest request for
The court rejected Evans' argument that a 1983 change in state law,
allowing juries to decide whether intoxication should be a mitigating
factor in death penalty cases, should not have applied to his case.
Evans was sentenced to death for the 1983 murders of Scott Piechowcz and
his sister-in-law Susan Kennedy in the lobby of the Warren House Motel in
He also claimed that 11 witness statements that weren't used by either
side at a trial raised questions about key state witness reports that
placed him in the lobby of the motel at the time of the killings.
(source: Associated Press)
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