In April of 2013, a small team of filmmakers set off from New York in a 30ft RV. Their mission: to tell the stories of those who had been found innocent and exonerated from America’s death rows.
They journeyed 5,500 miles over the following five weeks, making two films a week. Each film profiled a death row exoneree and focused on a different common reason for wrongful conviction within the American capital justice system.
Their trusty RV (named Tina by the audience) became production office, edit suite and sleeping quarters for the team, with the films all made “live” from the road within 36 hours; ‘shoot, edit, upload’ was the mantra.
But as well as being highly flexible and very lean, the project was entirely interactive. Case notes researched and put together by teams from 10 UK law firms were published ahead of each interview, so the audience could understand the process that had led to each particular wrongful conviction.
In this way, the sharing of these stories resonated far beyond the walls of the camper or the screens the films were watched on. The project was able to instigate real time debates and conversations with people globally.
Joe D’Ambrosio spent 22 years on death row in Ohio before being exonerated and released.
He was lucky to have the support and friendship of a priest –Father Neil Kookoothe – who believed in his innocence and fought to bring the evidence to light. Father Neil speaks of the day of Joe’s release as one of the happiest of his life:
"To see him walk out of that court room a free man, it was just an incredible feeling."
But Joe’s path to rehabilitation has been far from easy. Having succeeded in getting his record expunged, he found himself lacking in the education required for jobs that would allow him a better quality of life. In instances where he went for an interview, he would have to explain the 23-year gap in his CV.
The state of Ohio does not provide for exonerees with programmes or support, unlike if Joe had been guilty and served his time. The state has ruled that he will receive no compensation. For Joe, rehabilitation has been friendship alone - sadly a highly common outcome for America’s death row exonerees.