Part one of two. One in this series of programs exploring true crimes and criminals. Court TV's Catherine Crier introduces this special two-part episode, hosted by Ted Koppel. The episode deals with capital punishment, raising questions that have come up in capital cases across the United States. Images in the program include interviews with prisoners, prison scenes, footage of trials, and interviews. Koppel begins with a discussion of capital punishment in the state of Illinois, where Governor George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions after thirteen death-row convicts in the state were exonerated of their supposed crimes. Anthony Porter is used as an example. Porter was on death row until he was proven innocent by a group of journalism students, viewers learn, and he was freed only two days before his scheduled execution. Attorneys and scholars comment on both sides of this issue. Attorney Larry Marshall discusses the problem of the wrongful execution of innocent people. Attorney Joe Birkett claims that the risk of error in the United States judicial system is small and insignificant. Koppel goes on to name several cases in which death-row inmates were cleared of the charges against them before their executions were carried out. Governor James Gilmore of Virginia argues that the accused are always afforded fair trials. Law professor James Liebman describes a study he conducted examining what he sees as the high rate of error in capital cases. The story of Earl Washington is given as an example. Rebecca Williams, a young mother, was found raped and murdered in her home in Virginia. Washington, arrested for an unrelated crime, confessed to the murder. Attorneys, Williams's widower, scholars, and others offer comments about Washington's trial and the issues surrounding it. Although Washington was found guilty -- and sentenced to death -- the program notes that certain details of the case didn't add up. Liebman points out that police and prosecutors are under pressure to solve violent murder cases -- and that race is frequently a huge factor in the assignment of blame and punishment. Eventually, DNA tests proved Washington innocent, saving his life. The program closes shortly after Liebman makes a final point. He proposes that there are two questions that must be dealt with in regard to the judicial system in the United States: "How reliable is this system?" and "How much unreliability is too much unreliability?" Commercials deleted. Continues with T:65970.002.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by The New York Community Trust - Haas Foundation Fund.


  • NETWORK: Court TV
  • DATE: October 30, 2000 Monday 10:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:45:49
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:65970.001
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Capital punishment
  • SERIES RUN: ABC - TV series, 1980-


    • Tom Bettag … Executive Producer
    • Bonnie Dry … Executive Producer
    • C. Scott Willis … Senior Producer
    • Dan Green … Producer
    • Nick Goldberg … Associate Producer
    • Courtney Jamieson … Researcher
    • Ted Koppel … Host
    • Catherine Crier … Announcer
    • Joe Birkett
    • James Gilmore
    • James Liebman
    • Larry Marshall
    • Anthony Porter
    • George Ryan
    • Earl Washington
    • Rebecca Williams