Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Exonerated - The Play

Sunny Jacobs was convicted of a crime she did not commit, and lost 16 years of her life to death row. Frighteningly, Sunny's story is not unique. It could, and does happen dozens of times right here, right now, in the United States. The Exonerated tells the true tales of six innocent death row survivors in their own words. In words you won't forget.
The Exonerated played to sold-out crowds at Culture Project's 45 Bleecker Street Theater for 18 months before touring the country with featured performances by Robin Williams, Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow, Stockard Channing, Avery Brooks, and other distinguished actors. After being seen by over 500,000 people across the country, The Exonerated was made into a Court TV movie starring Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover and Aiden Quinn. The Exonerated has raised over $800,000 for the individuals depicted in the play.

Now read about the authors' journey in creating The Exonerated in the new book

Imagine everything you did between the years of 1976 and 1992.
Now remove all of it.
Those 16 years were taken away from Sunny Jacobs, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime she did not could happen just as easily to you. 
   Culled from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and the public record, The Exonerated tells the true stories of six people sent to Death Row for crimes they did not commit. In this 90 minute, intermissionless play, we meet Kerry, a sensitive Texan brutalized on Texas' death row for 22 years before being freed by DNA evidence; and Gary, a Midwestern organic farmer condemned for the murder of his own parents and later exonerated when two motorcycle gang members confess to the crime. We are introduced to Robert, an African-American horse groomer who spent seven years on Florida's death row for the murder of a white woman before evidence emerged that the victim was found clutching hair from a Caucasian attacker. We hear from David, a shy man with aspirations to the ministry, bullied into confessing at 18 to a robbery/murder he had nothing to do with, scarred from a youth spent in prison and struggling to regain his faith; and from Sunny, a bright-spirited hippie who spent 17 years in prison, along with her husband, for the murder of two police officers while another suspect had written a confession that was repeatedly discounted by authorities. And we meet Delbert, a poet who serves as the play's center, convicted of a rape/murder in the Deep South of the 1970s and later freed when evidence surfaced suggesting that he was not even in the state when the crime occurred. Moving between first-person monologues and scenes set in courtrooms and prisons, the six interwoven stories paint a picture of an American criminal justice system gone horribly wrong and of six brave souls who persevered to survive it.

   In spring of 2002, "The Exonerated" authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen co-directed a critically acclaimed production of The Exonerated at the Los Angeles Actors' Gang Theater under the Artistic Direction of Tim Robbins. Under Bob Balaban's direction, The Exonerated played Off-Broadway (over 600 performances) and toured for 27 weeks across the country. The Exonerated has also been performed at the United Nations and for Washington audiences including Senator Patrick Leahy, Former Atty. General Janet Reno, Former U.S. Atty. Mary Jo White, Supreme Court Justice David Souter, and several members of the Justice Department.

   In 2002, Blank and Jensen were invited to present The Exonerated for Governor George Ryan of Illinois, as he was considering whether to commute the sentences of over 140 Illinois death row inmates. That performance took place at the 2002 National Gathering of the Death Row Exonerated, for an audience including over 40 exonerated death row inmates, Governor Ryan, and several members of the Illinois State Legislature, as well as major religious leaders.

The exonerated:

Kerry Max Cook: Convicted of murdering a neighbor in Texas in 1977; exonerated in 1997.
Gary Gauger: Convicted of murdering his mother and father in Illinois in 1993; exonerated in 1996. 
Robert Earl HayesBlack Florida racetrack worker convicted of murdering a white woman in 1990; exonerated in 1997.  In 2004, the real Robert Hayes plead guilty to manslaughter and arson in a 1987 rape and murder in New York. He is now serving 15 to 45 years. He is also the prime suspect in rapes in Delaware and New Jersey. 
Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs: Convicted, along with common law husband, Jesse Tafero, and his friend, Walter Rhodes, of murdering Philip Black, a Florida state trooper and Donald Irwin, a visiting Canadian constable in 1976; plead no contest and was released in 1992. Tafero was executed in 1990.
David Keaton: Convicted of murdering a Florida police officer in 1971; exonerated in 1973. 
Delbert Tibbs: Black Florida man convicted of murdering a white man and raping his girlfriend in 1974; exonerated in 1976. He was eventually freed in 1979 after serving time for an unrelated charge. 

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