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Moritz alumnus featured in new documentary “The Penalty”

“The Penalty” is a documentary exploring the impact of the death penalty in Ohio premiering at First Community Church on January 6. The screening is followed by a discussion with director Will Francome and attorney Allen Bohnert. Credit: Courtesy of Will Francome

Director Will Francome brings to light one of America’s most divisive issues in his latest documentary, “The Penalty,” which makes its Columbus debut this weekend.

The feature-length documentary uncovers the human costs of capital punishment by following the stories of three central characters affected by the death penalty in the course of four years, including an alumnus of the Moritz College of Law, Allen Bohnert.

“The Penalty” takes an in-depth look at stories that have dominated headlines in the United States, humanizing capital punishment by following Ohio’s botched execution of Dennis McGuire; the wrongful conviction of Damon Thibodeaux that led to 15 years on death row; and the family of Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was brutally murdered in 2013.

The death penalty is not really serving [families],” Francome said. “We were always told that it’s for the families –– to give them closure. But we think that for most of them, it does exactly the opposite. It prolongs their grief, it prolongs their time in court [and] it prolongs their having to deal with it.”

Francome said the idea behind “The Penalty” grew out of his previous work “One For Ten,” a series of films that profiles 10 wrongly convicted people on death row. From that project, Francome knew there was a larger story to tell, one that focused on a different aspect of the issue.

There’s been many great films about someone who sits on death row, but we wanted to show that there was more than that, that it affected families, it affected the exonerees and the lawyers,” he said. “It was so much more than that sort of classic image of a person sitting behind the glass and waiting for their death.”

In the case of Allen Bohnert, assistant public defender for the Southern District of Ohio, his role began in 2014, two weeks before the execution of McGuire and the first-ever use of a lethal-injection method.

A screenshot from “The Penalty”, a documentary exploring the impact of the death penalty in Ohio premiering at First Community Church on January 6. Credit: Courtesy of Will Francome

Francome said Bohnert’s role wasn’t originally slated to be a driving story throughout the film, but after his client, McGuire, endured an unprecedented degree of suffering during his execution –– it took 26 minutes to pronounce him dead –– Bohnert immediately became a source to be followed. “It’s a story that could be any of my colleagues all across the country who do this kind of work, who represent unpopular clients [and] who do it to the best of our abilities,” Bohnert said. “There’s always a price to be paid for the work that we do because the work that we do is toxic.”

McGuire’s botched injection resulted in a 3 1/2-year hiatus of executions in Ohio, which ended in July 2017.  

As the execution of Ohioan Raymond Tibbetts approaches on Feb. 13, “The Penalty” is being screened throughout Columbus as a push for a favorable clemency decision for Tibbets and a way to encourage Gov. John Kasich to stop the execution.

“I just want [the audience] to really consider how the death penalty affects America and where it fits within society here,” Francome said. “I really didn’t want to make a film that preaches too hard one way or the other. I wanted it to be something that feels more balanced and allows people to come in and make their own decisions after they watch these few stories and consider how it’s affected the people within the film.”

Four screenings of “The Penalty” will take place in Columbus on Friday, Sunday and Monday including a showing at the Moritz College of Law’s Saxbe Auditorium at 9 a.m. Monday. Francome will hold a discussion after each screening and Bohnert will be present at Monday’s showing to answer questions from the audience. Admission to all screenings is free.

4 comments

  1. Dennis McGuire;s execution was not, of course, botched, which should make one a little skeptical of “The Penalty”

    See McGuire, here:

    Rebuttal: Botched Executions
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2017/01/rebuttal-botched-executions.html

  2. Mr. Francome:

    The problems that you attribute to the death penalty are not those of the death penalty, but those who manage it, which includes Governors, Atty Gen, legislators and those who are the case managers – the judges.

    For example, Virginia has executed 112 murderers, since 1976, within 7 years of full appeals. Obviously, if Virginia can do it, all states can, if, responsibly, managed.

    Of course, execution is closure. It is closure of the legal process, found as just, by the overwhelming percentage of murder victim survivors and it prevents that murderer from ever haring anyone again – a very big deal for many of those survivors.

    Of course, execution cannot bring closure to the emotional and psychological challenges of those who have lost lovd ones to murder. Nothing can do that.

  3. Why would Raymond Tibbetts be given clemency?

    He was convicted of the aggravated murders of Judith Sue Crawford and Fred Hicks.

    Hicks, was sixty-seven years old and suffered from emphysema. Crawford was his live-in caretaker.

    Tibbetts had married Crawford just over a month earlier, also lived in the house.

    On November 6, 1997, Hicks’s sister, Joan Hicks Landwehr, arrived at Hicks’s home in Cincinnati to meet him for lunch.

    After getting no answer at the door and seeing Hicks’s car missing from its usual parking space, Landwehr entered the home with her spare key.

    Landwehr went to a second-floor living room and found Hicks’s dead body slumped in a chair. Landwehr immediately called 911. Landwehr noticed that her brother’s chest and stomach were bloody and that his right pants pocket, where Hicks usually kept his money, was turned inside out.

    When Cincinnati police officers responded a short time later, they found Hicks with a tube still connecting his nose to a nearby oxygen tank. Two knives protruded from Hicks’s chest, a third knife protruded from his back, and the broken blade of a fourth knife was also in his back. Officers found additional knives and a knife sheath near Hicks. A butcher block used to store knives lay behind Hicks’s chair. Deputy coroner Daniel Schultz later determined that Hicks died as a result of multiple stab wounds to his chest that punctured Hicks’s heart, lungs, and aorta. Hicks did not have any defensive wounds.

    Officers found Crawford lying dead on the floor of a third-floor room, covered with a sheet. Crawford had been brutally beaten; her head was cracked open and lay in a pool of blood. Pieces of Crawford’s brain were lying on the floor next to her head. Crawford had also been stabbed several times, with one knife still stuck in her neck. Crawford also had a broken left arm, which Dr. Schultz characterized as a probable result of her attempt to ward off blows. Police found a bloodstained baseball bat and several knives near Crawford’s body. Dr. Schultz concluded that Crawford died of multiple skull fractures and that at least nine of her stab wounds were inflicted after her death. In all, Crawford had been struck at least four times in the head with blunt-force blows and sustained stab wounds to her back, lungs, chest, arm, shoulder, and neck.

  4. Death Penalty: Benefit to Families

    Shelby Farah was brutally murdered in 2013. She was cashier, who gave all the money to a robber, did everything he said and then, he shot her 3 times, murdering her. He was a repeat offender.

    Darlene Farah, Shelby’s mother, opposed the death penalty because of the long trial and appeals time.

    How did she avoid the long trial and appeals time? The death penalty.

    The case was resolved with a plea to life without parole (LWOP). No trial, no appeals.

    There is, only, one way to get a plea to LWOP. You have to have the death penalty and it has to be a credible option in the case.

    It was.

    Without the death penalty, there would have been a long trial with LWOP being the maximum sanction, with the potential of lifetime appeals with LWOP.

    If LWOP is the jurisdictions maximum sentence, the best plea deal would have been life with parole eligibility.

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