[Photo: Guards at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas]

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Witness to an Execution
Recorded in Huntsville, TX.
Premiered October 20, 2000, on All Things Considered.

Witness to an Execution tells the stories of the men and women involved with the execution of deathrow inmates at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Narrated by Warden Jim Willett, who oversees all Texas executions, Witness to an Execution documents, in minute-by-minute detail, the process of carrying out an execution by lethal injection. Most of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees interviewed have witnessed over one hundred inmates be put to death. One-third of all executions in the US have taken place in Texas, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

The voices in Witness to an Execution tell a rare story. Major Kenneth Dean, a member of the "tie-down" team, describes the act of walking an inmate from his cell to the death chamber. Jim Brazzil, a death house chaplain who has witnessed 114 executions, remembers inmates' last words to him. Former corrections officer Fred Allen discusses his own mental breakdown, caused, he says, by participating in one too many executions.

Witness to an Execution won a Peabody Award in 2000.

Producers: Stacy Abramson and David Isay / Production Assistant: David Miller / Narrator: Jim Willett / Editor: Gary Covino / Supervising engineer: Caryl Wheeler / Music: Bob Mellman / Music Coordinator: Henry Sapoznik / Executive Producer for All Things Considered: Ellen Weiss / Special thanks to: Larry Fitzgerald, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice / Photography: Andrew Lichtenstein/Open Society Institute. / Funding provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Open Society Institute.


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This piece is available in the following audio formats [22:22 min]:



Witness to an Execution on CD

The Execution Tapes, recorded by the Georgia Department of Corrections

Death Row Diaries, a feature about the last two inmates executed in the U.S. before the year 2000

Photos taken during the making of the documentary, from the Washington Post PhotoVoyage

RealImpact's slideshow based on an excerpt of the documentary [RealPlayer required]

An interview with warden Jim Willett on Morning Edition [RealPlayer required]

Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing, the book that inspired this documentary

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