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Mar 25, 2009

A man condemned to death and a law professor who supports the death penalty form an unlikely alliance in this independent documentary.

By Amy Van Vechten

“I consider myself to be the ultimate moderate on the death penalty. I get as much hate mail from the right as I do from the left.” – Robert Blecker

“If the state is going to say ‘we’re willing to take a citizen’s life for something that citizen did wrong,’ we better be perfect at it. And we’re not, and we’re never going to be.” – Ted Schillinger

“Some people deserve to die, and it’s our obligation to kill them,” says law professor Robert Blecker. He believes that death is the only just punishment for convicted murderers and rapists whose crimes are so vicious that no other penalty is appropriate.
Sixty-four percent of Americans agree.
The disturbing new film Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead, by director Ted Schillinger, documents how Blecker’s beliefs about capital punishment stand up under the pressure of his relationship with a man under sentence of death.
The death-row inmate is Daryl Holton, who killed his four children with an assault rifle in Shelbyville, Tennesse in 1999. Blecker met him in 2005, while conducting research at federal prisons on the American punishment system.
Over the next year and a half, Blecker discovered a man possessed with not long a keen legal mind and wry sense of humor but one who shared his conviction that death was the proper punishment for his crimes. He had confessed shortly after the killings, he had opposed his lawyers’ attempts to spare him the death penalty, and he declined to file appeals.
A long series of frank and confrontational exchanges, in phone calls, letters and visits, led to a surprisingly intense relationship that both frustrated and challenged Blecker.
Despite his own strong opposition to the death penalty, director Schillinger managed to engage the capital-punishment debate without taking sides.
“I’m opposed to the death penalty on very simple grounds,” Schillinger says. “I don’t think we could ever get it right. Robert’s principal thesis is we should strive to get it right, we should refine it. But I don’t accept the odds that we might execute a factually-innocent person.”
Blecker hesitated to participate in the film at first because he worried Schillinger’s opposition to the death penalty might unfairly bias the editing and render Blecker a one-sided character. But the documentary presents both its major characters as they are: intelligent, complex and a bit chilling—one for his cool indifference towards death, the other for his passionate investment in it.

“How do people go into a room and come out saying ‘we’ve decided that this person must die?’” – Ted Schillinger


Ted Schillinger is a documentary director, writer and editor. He won a Midwest Emmy for his history of the Chicago Tribune. He graduated from Yale University.

Robert Blecker is a professor of law at the New York Law School where he teaches criminal law and constitutional theory. He is a nationally known advocate of the death penalty.

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