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Judgment at Midnight 1996

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by Produced by ABC News
Directed by Directed by George Paul
VHS, color, 88 min.

College - Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Orlando Archibeque, Auraria Library, University of Colorado at Denver

This program originally aired on PrimeTime Live, an ABC News television program, on June 19, 1996. It is a thought-provoking video that follows the last few hours in the life of an inmate who is about to be executed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Antonio James grew up in a poor, black neighborhood in New Orleans, was allegedly abused by his father, got involved with drugs at an early age, and by age 17 had been arrested 38 times. In his mid-twenties, he was involved in two separate armed robberies that went bad. In both cases, the robbery victims were shot and killed. James admits his involvement in the armed robberies, but insists that he was not the person who pulled the trigger. Two separate accomplices claimed that James was the shooter in both cases; both accomplices received very short sentences in exchange for their testimony. One of the murder cases resulted in a life sentence for James; the second case resulted in a death sentence. At the time that the video was produced, James was 41 and had been on death row for 13 years. His attorneys had previously been successful in delaying his execution, but it now appears inevitable that James will pay the ultimate price for crimes he maintains he did not commit. The cameras are rolling when James learns from his attorneys that the execution will go on as scheduled. We witness a number of very private events: a dramatic meeting with the son of one of the murder victims; his last visit with his family; his last meal with the warden, a trusted prison guard, and his spiritual advisors; and the final steps from his prison cell to the execution chamber. Throughout the ordeal, James seems at peace with himself. He is the one giving solace to his family and friends, and he is concerned about making the warden's job more comfortable. We learn that James taught himself to read in prison, and religion has become an important part of his life. Those in favor of capital punishment will argue that the video portrays James in a positive light (which it does). But the portrayal isn't totally positive. There are a few powerful scenes (particularly in interviews with the victims' family members) that serve as reminders that James was convicted by a jury of committing brutal and senseless crimes. The video does not show the actual execution, but does show prison employees and medical experts practicing for this event. Sound, video, and editing are excellent, which is impressive considering that the majority of the filming took place in several different prison locations. Additionally, Cynthia McFadden, ABC News correspondent, does a masterful job of interviewing James, the prison warden, and other prison employees about their thoughts and feelings during the last, tense hours before the execution. One minor problem -- since the show originally was produced for commercial television, there are a number of obvious breaks that interrupt the video's natural flow. This video is highly recommended for adult viewers in high school, public, and academic libraries.