A retired judge is lured from his South Carolina hermitage to handle one last appeal for a Death Row inmate.
Sound familiar? Wait, you can predict even more details, as the judge himself instantly succeeds in doing. Hon. August Jorgenson was a celebrated opponent of the death penalty before he stepped down and into the hermit-like oblivion of his Outer Banks lighthouse (no computer, no phone, barely any mail). The advocates pressing for his involvement, director/anchor Jessica Woodruff and her colleagues at the upstart Trial TV network, are more interested in ratings than justice. The accused, Wesley Boyd Davies, is an autistic African-American, a prodigiously gifted artist who can speak barely a word, convicted 15 years ago of raping and killing his 11-year-old neighbor Ilsa Meisner in execution-happy Virginia. A parade of lawyers has run methodically through every last grounds for appeal save one: “Could a competent, sane, non-retarded individual, who was nonetheless incapable of understanding the connection between his criminal act and his execution, be put to death without violating the Eighth Amendment?” It all sounds like pretty recondite stuff until Jorgenson, agreeing to argue the case before the Supreme Court, finds evidence that strongly suggests his client is innocent, with confirmation (though no evidence he can take into court) readily available. The discovery would make Boy Davies’s day if he could understand it, but there’s no joy at Trial TV, where Jorgenson’s claim of actual innocence, which could fatally undermine their crusade against capital punishment, turns the grizzled justice into a potential liability. Wonder what will happen next?
For Klempner (Irreparable Damage, 2002), any point worth making is worth beating to death, and the early stages of this opus, which seem determined to mine the fog for every metaphoric possibility, are slow-going. Once the story kicks in, however, it proceeds to its foreordained conclusion with pleasing brio.