In spite of its subject matter, this full length documentary is a real mixed bag. We hear from the women themselves, attorneys, a juror and others. It begins with Virginia Larzelere, who is a real piece of work. She claimed to have been sexually abused by her own father, a claim that is backed up by her daughter Jessica, who says her grandfather also molested her. Virginia had a son and then her daughter by her first husband, who also abused her - but he had a right to be jealous because she was unfaithful. He was the subject of a murder attempt, then the two split up, and she began a life of crime embezzling from her employers and relatives. Then, incredibly, she says she married her second husband, a state trooper, to avoid a $30 fine for a motoring offence. After the ticket was cancelled, they were divorced. "I was just using him", she tells the camera smiling.
When she met her third husband and victim, he was married to his first wife. He appears to have been bewitched by her. He was a catch, especially for a woman of her antecedents, and a single mother at that. Then after bearing him two children, she began a string of affairs. This is excused by the narrator as being symptomatic of the sexual abuse she is alleged to have suffered at the hands of her father. Of course, this is garbage. Most self-styled victims (or as they now style themselves, survivors) of sexual abuse claim to have been put off sex. She tried to recruit her lover Norman Karn to murder her husband, and it was the State's case that she recruited her own son to carry out the crime. Karn is interviewed here, and he believes emphatically in her guilt.
The evidence against Larzelere was extremely compelling, including the testimony of two accomplices, one who disposed of two guns, and the insurance policies she took out on him! Although she was rightly convicted, her son was, surprisingly, acquitted. Now after being sentenced to death and having escaped the electric chair, she is protesting her innocence. Get real.
Faye Brown is an entirely different type of person from Larzelere; clearly none too bright, she hung out with a bad crowd when she was young, allowed herself to be talked into robbing a bank, and was in the getaway car when one of her accomplices murdered a state trooper. In the UK she would probably have been convicted of murder or possibly manslaughter, but by the same token would almost certainly have been paroled after ten or fifteen years. In December 2009, after this film was first aired, Brown's release was blocked by a superior court; she was still in prison the following August. Although she still protests her innocence she was clearly a minor player, and really should have been released years if not decades ago, but not it appears in North Carolina.
Of all the women in this documentary, the only one who takes full responsibility for her crimes is Kaysie Dudley, whose death sentence was overturned on appeal. She was the same age as Faye Brown when she was arrested for the murder of an elderly woman; like Brown she did not act alone; like Larzelere she claims to have been sexually abused by her own father, certainly she had a hard life, and had substance abuse issues, but although she says it was her co-conspirator rather than she who wielded the knife, she says too that "a lot of people use drugs for an excuse...child abuse for an excuse, but fact remains that you made that final decision." Give her credit for that.
"Women On Death Row 4" includes reconstructions and apart from its permitting Larzelere to whitewash herself is fairly compelling viewing.
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