Life and Death Row, review: Compelling case for BBC3 to stay on TV

 

The "villains" featured in last night's BBC3 documentary Life and Death Row were about to receive justice, but in this instance our feelings were complicated.

Like over half of death row inmates, Richard Cobb from Texas was a young man – just 18, in fact – when he committed the crime for which he was sentenced to die by lethal injection.

After a decade in prison, he seemed to understand his position in the eyes of the state: "I'm an unregenerable speck of cancer that needs to be excised from humanity before I grow and develop into something darker," he said.

Anthony Haynes, another young inmate nearing the scheduled date of his execution for the murder of an off-duty police officer, was in a better mood. Call it denial or call it religion, but even as they were dishing up his last meal, Hayne's still had an unshakeable faith he'd be delivered from the executioner's table.

Werner Herzog's On Death Row mini-series remains the definitive documentary on this topic, but director Ben Anthony had sense enough to borrow Herzog's powerful technique of letting the camera linger on the interviewee's faces after they'd finished speaking. It's these moments that haunt the viewer long after the credits have rolled.

Life and Death Row is not only a cleverly structured, well-balanced look at both sides of the death penalty argument.

A documentary of this quality also makes a compelling case for BBC3's own stay of execution.

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