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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A very young William Friedkin produced and directed this documentary
for television in 1962 when Paul Crump had been in prison for nine
years, waiting on death row. Crump was convicted for the shooting death
of a Chicago meat-packing plant's security guard during an armed
robbery, which netted some $20,000. Chicago police quickly moved in,
arrested Crump, and convicted him, primarily based on the testimony of
one of those convicted for the crime. Crump claims he's innocent, was
with a woman the day of the crime, and the woman later testifies in his
defense, only to disappear later due to a public outcry and ridicule.
Director William Friedkin reenacts the crime based on Crump's story, but viewers never get a real sense of what may have happened or why they should believe Crump any more than the police. It really is just a he said, she said stand off, and that's really enough to have doubt when it comes to a death sentence. Friedkin does a good job of showing Crump's side of the story and how he later supposedly rehabilitated himself while in prison. Friedkin is less successful at demonstrating a need to end or curtail capital punishment; he would have been better served by focusing on modifying death sentences based on the weakness of evidence.
Even though Friedkin's film was never aired on television (probably due to the victim being white and Crump being black), it probably played some role in keeping Crump out of the electric chair in Illinois some 15 times throughout his incarceration. Crump went on to spend an additional thirty some years in prison before being released in 1993, after having his death sentence later reduced to 119 years. Ironically, Crump was sent back to prison because of violating a protection order and harassing a family member, and he died of lung cancer in 2002...in prison. While in prison, Crump became literate, reading classic literature, and writing a book of his own entitled "Burn, Killer, Burn!", which was released at the time this film was made. **1/2 of 4 stars.
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