|Professor’s documentary saved innocent man from death row|
|Written by Lee Strubinger, Daily Vidette Staff Writer|
|Wednesday, 01 February 2012 22:54|
“As Abe Lincoln famously said ‘We are a government of the people, by the people for the people.’ If people do not speak out when they see injustice, our democracy ceases to operate as our founding fathers intended,” said associate professor John McHale.
On Wednesday evening, students gathered in CVA 145 for a screening of “Picture This: A Fight to Save Joe,” a documentary that sought to liberate “a Missouri man on death row, despite there being neither witnesses nor evidence against him.”
The showing was put together by the ISU Documentary Project, which aims to “teach students how they can use their communicative abilities to promote positive change.”
The story began in 1985, when Joseph Amrine “was accused and convicted of stabbing a fellow inmate at a prison in Jefferson City, Missouri” who was serving time in the “Missouri State Penitentiary for robbery, forgery and burglary.”
Amrine then lobbied for the death penalty in hopes that it would draw attention to his case.
McHale, associate professor in the School of Communication at ISU, was working on a dissertation at the University of Missouri-Columbia, focusing on “how anti-death penalty advocates communicate in their advocacy campaigns.”
McHale was approached by Amrine’s defense team about producing a documentary about “using tax payers' dollars to kill an innocent man.”
“This film shows that while we have one of the greatest criminal justice systems in the world, mistakes do happen. The death penalty is morally questionable considering these mistakes,” McHale said.
“Picture This: A Fight to Save Joe,” follows the entire effort to save the life of Joe Amrine, starting with “Unreasonable Doubt: The Joe Amrine Story,” which was the first documentary made on the Joe Amrine case made during McHale’s time at University of Missouri-Columbia.
“Joe Amrine was dangerously close to being executed despite no evidence or witnesses that implicated him in this crime,” McHale said.
“I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, with the needed knowledge, equipment, and the help of other people, to contribute to justice being done in this case. If we could do it, anyone can have a positive role to play in democracy,” McHale added.
Finished at ISU, the second half of the documentary depicts the efforts to save Amrine, who was months away from being executed.
This part of the documentary showed how the media could be used to save the life of an innocent man.
McHale teamed up with two former students from his “Writing for Mass Media” class, who served as assistant director, editor, assistant editor, and graphics person.
“Each one of us has not just a right, but a responsibility, to use our communicative talents to speak out when we see injustice,” McHale said.
According to Pamela Bonanno, president of the ISU Documentary Project, on March 4, they will be sponsoring a screening of “Waiting for Superman.”
“[Waiting for Superman] touches on the problems in our educational system,” Bonanno said.
“We aim to bring quality [documentary] screenings on social and political issues,” Bonanno added.
“ISU and the School of Communication was extremely supportive of the completion of the documentary,” said McHale.
“I have taught programs at Princeton University, Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern University, and I feel blessed to be a faculty member at the best university in the nation: Illinois State University,” McHale added.