Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Unconvincing Execution of Elias Syriani



I reported on November 19, 2005, on the sad, sad execution in North Carolina of Elias Syriani. Syriani had killed his wife in a rage and had been convicted and sentenced to death. The couple's four children, after years of understandable estrangement from their father, in due course reconciled with him and came to know and love him. As his execution date approached the children did everything possible to persuade the Governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, to commute the sentence. They hired legal counsel, they met with Easley, and they took their appeal public with a dramatic appearance on the Larry King show. All to no avail -- Easley turned them down with a brief, cold, heartless statement that he could find "no convincing reason" to commute the death sentence. The decision was bad enough, but Easley's reliance on such a vacuous non-reason made it all the more gratuitously painful to the Syriani children. He might at least have had the decency to explain why the love of the man's four children and their desperate need to have their father stay alive for their sake was not a convincing reason.

Linda Booker, a North Carolina based filmmaker, has now produced, directed and released a moving documentary on the case entitled Love Lived on Death Row. The production was supported in part by the Southern Documentary Fund, a non-profit organization supporting documentary film projects about the American south. It documents a tense and tearful set of interviews, before and after the execution, with the Syriani children, their extraordinary lawyers, Henderson Hill and Russell Sizemore, Meg Eggleston, a woman who befriended Syriani and took up his cause, and Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun, the author of Dead Man Walking, a nationally prominent advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Unfortunately but predictably Mike Easley declined to be interviewed and to give the family and indeed the country the benefit of his view on why in this unique and compelling case this terrible execution had to go forward for no convincing reason. The trailer for the film appears above and can also be viewed on the film's website.

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