At the Death House Door (DVD Review)23 May, 2009 By: Billy Gil
Prebook 5/26/09; Street 6/23/09
At the Death House Door creates a stunning portrait of Carroll Pickett, who presided as the chaplain over 95 executions — as well as provides compelling fuel against the death penalty.
Minister Pickett served at the “Walls” prison in Huntsville, Texas, presiding over the first lethal injection ever performed in the United States. The memories and emotions left after the executions are overwhelming for even the strong, hard-headed Pickett. He records audio cassettes describing what happened to these men, some of whom were well-known, some of whom were largely forgotten.
One case in particular almost made Pickett leave his profession. Pickett believes Carlos De Luna, a man who was sentenced for the brutal murder of a gas station worker, was innocent; evidence provided to the Chicago Tribune strongly supports this. Pickett says the last drug that killed De Luna took 11 minutes to end his life, instead of the purported 6 to 7 seconds the drug should take.
Pickett becomes an activist, using what he knows to tell people that the death penalty is “cruel and unusual punishment … simple retaliation … wrong … [and] not, to me, either Christian or American or Texan.”
Steve James and Peter Gilbert’s documentary is rich in both detail and emotion, using news footage, recordings and footage from some of the crimes discussed and Pickett’s own tapes along with interviews with Pickett and those involved with his life and the cases. It’s powerful but difficult viewing: The words of those affected by the executions stay burned in your memory.