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At the Death House Door

Darrel Manson

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  • 3 weeks later...

I haven't seen the film yet.

But I did receive this comment to a blog post that I made about the film several months ago.

I'm not going to post the comment on my blog, since it's just a cut-and-pasted protest. But I'm curious... has anyone here seen the film? Anyone find this "comment" interesting?

Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Rev. Pickett is on a promotional tour for the film "At the Death House Door", a film partially about the Reverend's experience ministering to 95 death row inmates executed in Texas.

Rev. Pickett's inaccuracies are many and important.

Does Rev. Pickett just make facts up as he goes along, hoping that no one fact checks or is he just confused or ignorant?

Some of his miscues are common anti death penalty deceptions and the Reverend is an anti death penalty activist.

Below are comments or paraphrases of Rev. Pickett, taken from interviews, followed by my Reply:.

Pickett: "A great majority of them (the 95 executed inmates he ministered to) were black or Hispanic." (1)

Reply: The "great majority" were 47 white (49%) with 32 black (34%), and 16 Hispanic (17%).

Pickett: "Out of the 95 we executed only one that had a college degree. All the rest of them their education was 9th grade and under." (1)

Reply: Not even close. In a review of only 31 of the 95 cases, 5 had some college or post graduate classes and 16 were high school graduates or completed their GED. Partial review (Incomplete Count) , below.

Would Rev. Pickett tell us about the educational achievements of all the innocent murder victims and those that weren't old enough for school?

Pickett: spoke of the Soldier of Fortune murder for hire case, stating the husband got death, while the hired murderer got 6 years. (1)

Reply: In this well known case. John Wayne Hearn, the hitman, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Sandra Black.

Pickett: speaks of how sincere hostage taker, murderer Ignacio Cuevas was. Rev. Pickett states that "between 11 and midnight (I) believe almost everything" the inmates say, because they are about to be executed. (1)

Reply: Bad judgement. Cuevas lied when on the gurney, stating that he was innocent. This goes to show how Rev. Pickett and many others are easily fooled by these murderers.

Pickett: I knew (executed inmate) Carlos (De Luna) didn't do it. It was his big brown eyes, the way he talked, he was the same age as my son (transference). I felt so sympathetic towards him. I was so 100% certain that he couldn't have committed this crime. (Carlos) was a super person to minister to. I knew Carlos was not guilty. Fred Allen a guard, said "by the way he talks and acts I don't believe he is guilty, either. (1)

REPLY: Experienced prison personnel are fooled all the time by prisoners, just as parole boards are. This is simply Rev. Pickett's and Fred Allen's blind speculation. It means absolutely nothing.

Pickett: believes that, no way, could someone, so afraid of lightning and thunder, such as Carlos De Luna, use a knife (in a crime). (1)

Reply: Rev. Pickett talks about how important his background is in understanding people and behavior and he says something like this, destroying his own credibility on the issue. If the lightning and thunder event occurred, we already know what De Luna was capable of. In 1980, "De Luna was charged with attempted aggravated rape and driving a stolen vehicle, he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 2 to 3 years. Paroled in May 1982, De Luna returned to Corpus Christi. Not long after, he attended a party for a former cellmate and was accused of attacking the cellmate's 53-year-old mother. She told police that De Luna broke three of her ribs with one punch, removed her underwear, pulled down his pants, then suddenly left. He was never prosecuted for the attack, but authorities sent him back to prison on a parole violation. Released again in December of that year, he came back to Corpus Christi and got a job as a concrete worker. Almost immediately, he was arrested for public

intoxication. During the arrest, De Luna allegedly laughed about the wounding of a police officer months earlier and said the officer should have been killed. Two weeks after that arrest, Lopez was murdered." (Chicago Tribune) Being a long time criminal, we can presume that there were numerous additional crimes committed by De Luna and which remained unsolved. Was De Luna capable of committing a robbery murder, even though he had big brown eyes and was scared of lightning? Of course. This goes to Pickett's poor judgement or something else.

And there is this major problem.

In 1999, after Rev. Pickett had left his death row ministry, he was asked, "Do you think there have been some you have watched die who were strictly innocent?"

His reply: "I never felt that." (3)

PIckett: "In my opinion and in the opinion of the convicts, life in prison, with no hope of parole, is a much worse punishment (than the death penalty)." "Most of these people (death row inmates) fear life in prison more than they do the possibility of execution." (2)

REPLY: That may be Rev. Pickett's opinion, but we know that isn't the opinion of those facing a possible death sentence of those residing on death row. This gives more support to my suspicion that Rev. Pickett is putting words into the inmates' mouths. His assertion is totally contradicted by the facts.

Facts: What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment. This is not, even remotely, in dispute. How could Rev. Pickett not be aware of this? How long was he ministering to Texas' death row? 13 years?

Pickett: stated that "doctors can't (check the veins of inmates pending execution), it's against the law." (1)

Reply: Ridiculous.

Pickett: Pavulon (a paralytic) has been banned by vets but we use it on people. (1)

REPLY: This is untrue and is a common anti death penalty deception. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): "When used alone, these drugs (paralytics) all cause respiratory arrest before loss of consciousness, so the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized." Obviously, paralytics are never used alone in the human lethal injection process or animal euthanasia. The AVMA does not mention the specific paralytic - Pavulon - used in lethal injection for humans. These absurd claims, falsely attributed to veterinary literature, have been a bald faced lie by anti death penalty activists.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, their euthanasia protocol is as follows: A coma is first induced by intravenous administration of 20 mg/kg sodium thiopental (Nesdonal) (NOTE-the first drug in human lethal injection) in a small volume (10 ml physiological saline). Then a triple intravenous dose of a non-depolarizing neuromuscular muscle relaxant is given, such as 20 mg pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) (NOTE-the second drug, the paralytic, in human lethal injection) or 20 mg vecuronium bromide (Norcuron). The muscle relaxant should preferably be given intravenously, in order to ensure optimal availability. Only for pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) are there substantial indications that the agent may also be given intramuscularly in a dosage of 40 mg.

Just like execution/lethal injection in the US, although we give a third drug which speeds up death.

Pickett: "Most of the inmates would ask the question, "How can Texas kill people who kill people and tell people that killing people is wrong?" That came out of inmates’ mouths regularly and I think it’s a pretty good question to ask." (2)

REPLY: Most? Would that be more than 48 out of 95? I simply don't believe it. 10 out of 95? Doubtful. I suspect it is no coincidence that "Why do we kill people to show that killing is wrong" has been a common anti death penalty slogan for a very long time. I suspect that Rev. Pickett has just picked it up, used it and placed it in inmate's mouths. Furthermore, we don't execute murderers to show that murder is wrong. Most folks know that murder is wrong even without a sanction. The murder is wrong and there are various sanctions for committing that wrong, including execution.

Pickett: said an inmate said "its burning" "its burning", during an execution. (1)

REPLY: This may have occurred for a variety of reasons and does not appear to be an issue. It is the third drug which is noted for a burning sensation, if one were conscious during its injection. However, none of the inmates that Rev. Pickett handled were conscious after the first drug was administered. That would not be the case, here, as the burning complaints came at the very beginning of the injection process, which would involve a reaction where the burning would be quite minor. Has Rev. Pickett reviewed the pain and suffering of the real victims - the innocent murdered ones?


Incomplete count

this is a review of 31 out of the 95 death row inmates ministered by Rev. Pickett

21 of the 31 below had some college or post graduate classes (5)

or were high school graduates or completed their GED (16)


1) Brooks 12

3) O'Bryan post graduate degree - dentist

41 james russel 10th

42 G Green sophomore college

45 David Clark 10th and GED

46 Edward Ellis 10th

47 Billy White 10th

48 Justin May 11th

49 Jesus Romero 11th and GED

50 Robert Black, Jr. a pilot (probably beyond 12th)

55. Carlos Santana 11th

57 Darryl Stewart 12th

58 Leonel Herrera 11th and GED

60) Markum Duff Smith Post graduate College

33) Carlos De Luna 9th

95 Ronald Keith Allridge 10th and GED

93 Noble Mays Junior in College

92 Samuel Hawkins 12th

91 Billy Conn Gardner 12th

90 Jeffery Dean Motley 9th

89 Willie Ray Williams 11th

86 Jesse Jacobs 12th

85 Raymond Carl Kinnamon 11th and GED

84 Herman Clark sophomore college

83 Warren Eugene Bridge 11th

82 Walter Key Williams 12th

72 Harold Barnard 12th

73 Freddie Webb 11th and GED

75 Larry Anderson 12th

77 Stephen Nethery 12th

79 Robert Drew 10th

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters

e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,

Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites

homicidesurvivors(dot)com/categories/Dudley Sharp - Justice Matters.aspx








yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)


1) "Chaplain Discusses 'Death House' Ministry", Interview, Legal Affairs, FRESH AIR, NPR, May 19, 2007.



3) "The Execution: Interview with Reverend Carroll Pickett", PBS, FRONTLINE, 1999


Edited by Overstreet



Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.


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I find it interesting that Dudley doesn't know the meaning of the word "majority." Forty-nine percent is a significant plurality, but it ain't a majority of anything.

He does make a couple of points here where he appears to have enough data to contradict the Reverend. But a lot of this just looks like differences of opinion. And since Dudley admits to "paraphrasing" the Reverend, I wouldn't know which of the two is actually more reliable. If you're going to attack the Reverend for being weak on facts, it doesn't seem very smart to make speculative statements like "Being a long time criminal, we can presume that there were numerous additional crimes committed by De Luna and which remained unsolved." It might be reasonable speculation, but it's still as speculative as anything he accuses the Reverend of saying.

I do remember reading about problems with capital convictions specifically in Texas a while back; I wouldn't have a problem believing that innocent people there were convicted and even executed.

Sister Helen Prejean came through town on a book tour not long ago and I heard her speak a couple of times. Not that her anecdotes aren't compelling, but that's all they are -- anecdotes. I didn't get a sense of how her experiences were supposed to constitute a basis for policy changes on capital punishment.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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I was reading the Post

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 7 months later...

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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"We initially intended to deal with his failed marriage because it was the catalyst which sent him to work at the prison in the first place. We did not expect the scenes with his kids when they happened. We were as surprised as the audience is watching the film, to learn that the family to that day had never really talked about the work he did. And we were shocked to learn that they didn't even know of the existence of the tapes. Those scenes reveal something about how closed Carroll was and still remains, and how much he and his family avoided dealing with this job he had. One great result of that filming and the film itself, is that the family is much closer than they've ever been."

This is a great response to that question. I am still puzzled by this film in a lot of ways, which involves the difficulty I often have trying to express my anti-death penalty convictions to other Americans. But from the outset, this is a great story about how people end up in Christian ministry and how that can affect their families.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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  • 9 months later...

It's surprising to me that this film has generated no more comment than I find in this thread... Is this Steve James' least memorable film?

I just saw it tonight at a local film festival. I have to say that while I found Carroll Pickett to be a noble figure in many ways, the film left me unmoved. I kept waiting for something like momentum, a development in the story that would turn it in some compelling way, but really nothing moved the film into gear.

There are some intriguing aspects of life and faith (especially in how his beliefs intersected with his job) and some compelling characters -- but the film didn't dwell on them (for instance, the convicts from the choir -- one of them in pastoral ministry. And De Luna's sister Rosa is the closest thing the film had to a "star"). It was too bad that the film didn't follow those threads, but left in such disjointed and ill-fitting segments as the one on Karla-Faye Tucker or the one on the ending of Pickett's first marriage.

I'll suggest this film to others, but not so much for its treatment of the death penalty or the power of its narrative as for its picture of the integration of faith and vocation, faith and justice.

Edited by Tim Willson

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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  • 10 years later...

I think this film checks a lot of the boxes for A&F Top 100 list -- important topic, esteemed filmmaker, overt connections to faith, issues of trauma and grace. 

I wish it had more momentum going into voting. 

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14 minutes ago, Andrew said:

Alas, JustWatch.com shows no streaming availability.

It appears to be streaming free on Vimeo:

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As I began watching this on Vimeo, I had the sudden realization that I had actually seen the film before, which doesn't happen very often—I had somehow blocked it out of my memory or simply forgotten all about it until some of the opening scenes, where it all came flooding back. It's definitely a film worth our consideration for the Top 100 list, though I also confess that I found myself strangely unmoved, despite its powerful and ostensibly affecting premise.

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6 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

As I began watching this on Vimeo, I had the sudden realization that I had actually seen the film before, which doesn't happen very often—I had somehow blocked it out of my memory or simply forgotten all about it until some of the opening scenes, where it all came flooding back. It's definitely a film worth our consideration for the Top 100 list, though I also confess that I found myself strangely unmoved, despite its powerful and ostensibly affecting premise.

Thanks for giving it a (re)look. 

I tend to think the absence of emotion (whether in the viewer or the subject) is one of the more important things about this doc, as I think it shows the emotional consequences (isolation) of moral repression. We've become numbed to some of the moral contradictions of modern life and how it operates, lest we go mad. Sometimes we get a glimpse behind that numbness and see the horror of things we've come to take for granted. 

The death penalty is one of the important moral issues of our time, particularly in America, even though we've stopped talking about it as such. This film, even more than Dead Man Walking (which I esteem as well) reminds me of that fact.

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I honestly think that one reason for my lack of memory of watching this film may be precisely due to the horrors of it, as if (and this is extreme language, but bear with me) watching it was a form of trauma in confronting the atrocity of the death penalty in America, particularly the death of a person innocent of the crime they were executed for.

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