The Exonerated – Hope Mill Theatre

Since 1973, 165 people have been released from death row, with evidence of their innocence. The Exonerated tells the true stories of six of these people, wrongfully sentenced for up to 22 years on death row.

The play is written by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen, and is meticulously researched. Constructed from case files, interviews, letters, and transcripts, it ensures that the stories are told in the words of those exonerated. Hope Mill Theatre’s production combines documentary style film with conventional live theatre, to create an entirely unique experience that is as absorbing as bingeing on a Netflix box set.

The Exonerated Netflix Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston Jessica Blank Eric Jensen
The Exonerated. Combining true crime documentary film with theatre. Picture Credit – Shay Rowan.

Before the play begins, you are handed a ticket, denoting which side of the traverse stage you will be sat. Steel wire fencing, crowned with barbed wire, separates the audience from the action happening on stage. It also separates the two halves of the audience from each other. Jessica Staton‘s masterful stage design effectively creates distance.

The audience is constantly aware that they are witnesses to the crimes, trials, and prison sentences, that are unfolding onstage. We are on the outside, looking in. Superb direction from Hope Mill’s co-founder, Joseph Houston, ensures that both sides of the audience are equally addressed, and that nobody misses out. I believe his experience as Observer Director on the Royal Exchange Theatre’s West Side Story has a marked influence here.

A television hangs above the stage, with a Netflix style “Who’s Watching?” welcome screen. The action then switches seamlessly between the documentary style interviews shown on the television, and events on stage which re-enact the stories of the exonerated interviewees. The juxtaposition of live action and recorded film creates a compelling multimedia experience that grips the audience’s attention.

The Exonerated Hope Mill Theatre Manchester Joseph Houston Jessica Blank Eric Jensen
Interrogation. Richard Galloway and Ben Boskovic. Picture Credit – Shay Rowan.

Although, after a while, you get a sore neck from watching the screen above the stage. Nonetheless, the stories told are completely riveting. The most engrossing play I have ever watched, I sat fixated and dumbfounded at the sheer injustice of these cases. Ironically, an American flag hangs on stage, a symbol of the American Constitution and justice. However, in The Exonerated, the flag is a pertinent reminder of corruption and the horrific miscarriages of justice endured by the six wrongfully imprisoned people.

The stories in The Exonerated raise an uncomfortable debate surrounding whether capital punishment is lawful. “We must look on it as putting a sick animal to sleep”. However, can you truly trust the justice system? These case studies expose prosecutorial misconduct, hidden evidence, altered testaments and shocking racial prejudice.

The Exonerated Hope Mill Theatre Manchester Joseph Houston Jessica Blank Eric Jensen
Interrogation. Rebecca Eastham’s character desperately pleads with police. Picture Credit – Shay Rowan.

The phenomenal level of performance, from all actors, result in every character being entirely convincing. The five actors on stage deftly inhabit multiple roles, but the filmed actors are particularly impressive. Their performances render an unremitting sense of realism. It genuinely felt like I was watching an actual documentary.

Grant Archer‘s cinematography in the recorded interviews deserves credit, effectively alternating between medium shots and close ups, in an accurate documentary style. The filmed actors are unyielding under the intense scrutiny of Archer’s close ups, delivering magnificent performances, where each intricate mannerism is magnified in importance.

The Exonerated is a riveting fusion of documentary film and live theatre. Telling the extraordinary stories of six people wrongfully sentenced to death row, this is a powerful, hard hitting play that is both moving and thought provoking.

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  1. The play, “The Exonerated”: Are Any Actually Innocent?
    From: Dudley Sharp, independent researcher, pro death penalty expert, former opponent, 832-439-2113

    Setting the Stage

    Nationally, the anti death penalty “exoneration” claims from death row are false 71%-83% of the time, New York Times and Florida (State) Commission on Capital Cases, respectively (1).

    Anti death penalty folks thought it would be a great idea to redefine both “exonerated” and “innocent”, as if redefining lie as truth (2). And they were right. Most in the media just lap it up wit zero fact checking/vetting.

    The play, “The Exonerated”, follows, in lock step.

    The true definition of exonerated (and factually innocent) is when it is proven that the suspect or convicted person has no connection to the crime (2).

    The Director Speaks

    The perfect beginning.

    “Bob Balaban, who directed the play and the Court TV production, says “I didn’t want us to say that everyone was innocent. Prosecutors have a perfect right to say that maybe some of these people are guilty. They should also say, ‘Maybe some of the people we prosecuted weren’t really guilty (3). ”

    “Maybe” is not exonerated, not even close.

    Let’s look at the “maybes”.

    The Actors: The Guilty and Exonerated

    Sunny Jacobs

    ” . . . Sunny Jacobs, the main character in The Exonerated, is both legally and factually guilty, a woman who has been exonerated only by the Hollywood glitterati . . . ” “(Jacobs) was freed after entering an “Alford” guilty plea to two counts of Murder. She is legally guilty by virtue of a plea and sentence.” (4, see also 5)

    “We had to (shoot the trooper),” Jacobs said, and while being transported told officers that she had fired the first shot. On the original tape of the police interrogation of Jacobs no police officer ever yells at or “grills” her.” (4, see also 5)

    Please see the scam of Jacobs and her husband
    The Scam of Sonny Jacobs & Peter Pringle

    Kerry Max Cook

    ” . . . Cook spent more than 20 years after sexually assaulting and murdering Linda Jo Edwards in 1977. Two juries sentenced him to death. Facing a fourth trial, he accepted a plea bargain that let him out after 22 years. He is hardly innocent.” (4, see also 5)

    “The professor (whose DNA was found in Edwards) denied killing Edwards at the time (of the original investigation), and again when police reinvestigated the crime after Cook was released. The professor passed a polygraph test, court records say. Cook has never given a statement to police, and he has not taken a polygraph (5).”

    It is confirmed that Edwards and the professor were having a consensual affair (5).

    “Cook, 19 at the time of Edwards’ slaying, already had racked up convictions for robbery, car theft and kidnapping. He left Tyler the morning after the slaying and assaulted a woman in Port Arthur, Texas, about six weeks later, said Dobbs, who was lead prosecutor in Cook’s murder case. The statement from Cook’s friend placed him at Edwards’ window near the time she was killed (5).”
    “In statements to reporters, Cook initially denied knowing the victim. After his fingerprint was found in her apartment, he said he had visited her before the slaying (5).

    Woops. Later, Cook said they were dating. They weren’t.

    Robert Earl Haynes

    “(Haynes) wasn’t available to do (The Exonerated) publicity interviews because he’s doing a long prison stretch (6) for ” . . . a nearly identical murder in New York, which was committed prior to the murder in Florida. (7) .” “In 2004, Robert Hayes pled guilty to manslaughter and arson in a 1987 rape and murder in New York . . . now serving 15 to 45 years. He is also the prime suspect in rapes in Delaware and New Jersey. (7)

    “Nothing about Hayes’ retrial changes the (Florida) appeals court’s original observation that evidence existed to establish Hayes’ guilt (7).”

    David Keaton

    Keaton’s defense attorney stated that even without Keaton’s numerous confessions, that the eyewitness testimony was likely sufficient to convict Keaton for the capital murder. (8)

    Through the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses, Keaton’s numerous confessions, as well as those of co-defendants, Keaton was sentenced to death. There is no credible claim for innocence in this case of robbery/murder. The case was overturned on appeal. The prosecution chose not to re prosecute for a number of good reasons. he was no longer subject to the death penalty, because of changes in the law. Keaton was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a robbery that he committed ten days prior to the robbery/murder for which he was sentenced to death and illness of witnesses. (8)

    Keaton was sentenced to death in 1971, under the old death penalty law. He was on death row for 13 months when the US Supreme Court overturned all death penalty cases in Furman v Georgia (1972). By law, he could not be re-sentenced to death. (8)

    Delbert Tibbs

    The Florida Supreme Court candidly conceded that it should not have reversed Tibbs’ conviction since the evidence was legally sufficient (9)

    The state prosecutor who chose not to retry Tibbs recently explained to the Florida Commission on Capital Crimes that Tibbs “was never an innocent man wrongfully accused (9)

    He was a lucky human being. He was guilty, he was lucky and now he is free.” (9)

    Gary Gauger

    I consider Gauger innocent.

    Originally, Gary should have been sentenced to life, not death. Gary’s mitigation was improperly assessed, which put him on death row for 9 months, then, after re-sentencing, he spent 3 years of a life sentence, for murdering his parents. then released when it was determined that the police didn’t have probable cause to arrest him, which caused his confession to the murders to be thrown out, as it was the product of that arrest (10).

    In 2009, Jurors ” . . . found that even though Gauger was innocent, the detectives had probable cause to arrest him for his parents’ 1993 slayings”. (“Cops didn’t frame former death row inmate, jury says”, Daily Herald, 8/20/2009, )

    It, legally, negated the confession. It did not, factually, negate the confession.

    Later, two motorcycle gang members were convicted of committing the murders of Gary’s parents, with one confessing and turning against his co defendant, as well as becoming a prosecution witness in a much larger federal case against many other gang members, involving murders and bombings.

    The theories of Gauger’s guilt.

    The confession was true. No one would falsely confess, in detail, about slitting their parents throats. The idea that only 18 hours of interrogation would elicit such a false confession is absurd.

    Gauger gave a detailed account of how he grabbed each parent from behind and slit their throat, virtually from ear to ear (11).

    “Think about two people whom you dearly love. How could anybody force you to confess to their murders, even if you’d been up all night?” (prosecutor) Prossnitz asked the jury. (11)

    Gary’s parents had a well known motorcycle parts business on their farm, where Gary lived, with his parents.

    Gary was the inside man, who told the motorcyclist gang member that his parents kept a lot of cash on hand, which is how the gang member found out about the cash.

    Why would Gary do that? After the murders, he would get the farm, or his share of proceeds from the farm sale and any other estate proceeds and, possibly, share in the amount of money stolen.

    Although it was ruled that the confession was illegally obtained that does not make the confession false.

    Gauger was questioned for 18 hours prior to his confession.

    “When police starting questioning him shortly after the bodies were found he started talking about hearing voices; started talking in Spanish; talked about his vegetables and wheelbarrow,” Prossnitz said. “He tried to act crazy. But he’s crazy like a fox.” (11)

    Why would he fake being crazy, if he had nothing to do with the murders? He was determined sane and sentenced to death (12).

    Why I don’t buy Gary’s Guilt

    Why would Gary involve the gang member but commit the murders, himself, as per his confession? It makes no sense.

    Gary had no alibi. He was on the farm with his parents, without any known witnesses. The only reason for Gary to involve the gang members is so that Gary can have an alibi when his parents are murdered.

    “(Gauger) was acknowledged alcoholic and longtime marijuana user,” (12) He could also have been a dolt who screwed up the whole scheme.
    Some who were involved in the cases still believed he was involved (13).
    But, I don’t see it.

    The Author Speaks
    Jessica Blank, co-writer of The Exonerated, said “We’re not saying prosecutors might not have some piece of evidence in some cases that might point toward guilt. We’re saying there also is overwhelming evidence of innocence. That’s irrefutable (5).”

    Blank’s comments are beyond absurd . . . they’re laughable.

    Neither Jacobs nor Cook would have taken pleas, if they had “irrefutable overwhelming evidence of innocence.”, as their own plea and counsel concede.

    “That’s irrefutable”

    “(Jacob’s) acknowledged that prosecutors could prove she took part in the fatal shootings if the charges went to trial.” (5)

    Keaton’s numerous confessions and eyewitness testimony were likely sufficient to convict Keaton for the capital murder.

    The Florida Supreme Court conceded they should not have reversed Tibbs’ conviction since the evidence was legally sufficient.

    The only thing that is irrefutable is Blank’s lack of reason or honesty. The best that director, Balaban, could, honestly, say is that “maybe” some might be innocent. That is not an exoneration.

    ” . . the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), an anti-capital punishment group, says it does not consider Jacobs or Cook as innocent because both accepted plea bargains.” ” . . . Jacobs and Cook don’t qualify. (5 )”

    Blank’s irrefutable, overwhelming evidence of innocence is pure fiction.

    While some can still consider Gauger involved, I just don’t see it (13). Gauger was pardoned by the soon to be convicted felon, Gov. George Ryan, who pardoned or commuted all on Illinois’ death row, no matter how vile and guilty they were.

    1) Death Row, “Exonerations”, Media & Intentional Fraud

    2) Deception: The DPIC “Exonerated”/”Innocence” List

    3) Cross-Examination for a Drama That Puts the Death Penalty on Trial, Adam Liptak, New York Times, Jan. 27, 2005,

    4) Don’t Believe Everything You See on Court TV, Josh Marquis, The National Review, January 27, 2005

    5) Prosecutors take exception to Court TV film, Richard Willing, USA TODAY, 1/24/2005

    6) Honesty in the Debate over Capital Punishment, Joshua Marquis, Special to The National Law Journal, February 28, 2005

    7) no. 74 at
    and pages 45-48 at

    8) Read pages 59-68 at

    Click to access casehistory05-13-11%20Report.pdf

    9) See no.10 at
    and pages 131-135 at

    Click to access casehistory05-13-11%20Report.pdf




    13) Two gang members charged in Gauger murders, KRISTEN TURNER, Northwest Herald,

    more here:



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