MURDER: LIVE FROM DEATH ROW (1988)
Broadcast in syndication, presented here as aired on WVRN-63 UHF, Richmond.
This is a long tape that we purchased for $0.25 at a thrift store because it said “CHARLES MANSON INTERVIEW” on the label. Turned out to be a lot better than we’d anticipated—the above video includes our rip of the main Geraldo program, but the VHS also includes a fuzzy late-night replaying of a bizarre ‘78 Rankin/Bass Movie Of The Week, the Caribbean Elemental Ghost Turtle Sex Drama THE BERMUDA DEPTHS. (Fret not, it’s coming later.)
This Geraldo special is fast-paced, glossy, and incredibly well scored; clearly produced by the most devious minds in heavily manipulative 80’s “news media.” For sure, it’s a lot better than the legendary Al Capone special, but that’s not saying much. One gets the impression that he was really out for blood with this one—but even though they thoroughly avoid any single gigantic flap throughout the production, the show is still essentially nothing but a wildly ecstatic pro-Capital Punishment drum solo with no real substance to it, a murderous slideshow intended to put its huge audience into a suggestive trance with awesome synthesized harpsichord, then wholly erode their logic cortex by showing actual point-blank homicides and bloody crime scenes.
Aside from the heavily touted “uncensored interview” with Manson (he says “Shitstorm,” and bluntly espouses some Ra’s Al-Ghul genocide-as-planet-saving-measure stuff that rules,) the only thing making this show “LIVE FROM DEATH ROW” is that Rivera briefly brings on several actual Death Row inmates. These people, three of whom were in the midst of appealing their sentences, appear to have been sorely misled into believing this would be a chance to state their cases to a massive, sympathetic TV audience. Unfortunately, they were actually brought on so that Geraldo Rivera can heckle and torture them in front of an audience likely so bloodthirsty by this point in the program that they were probably prostrate on their rayon shag carpeting guzzling ancient drippings from the corner of a styrofoam supermarket butcher carrier while Ed Koch rambles about how militarizing inner-city narcotics units is “a necessary measure.” (In 1988!!! 1988!!!)
The inmates who appear on this program are:
1.) Tommy Arthur - Plead guilty to attempted murder, a crime he allegedly committed when under the influence of medication that caused multiple day-long blackouts if he used alcohol—medication he was prescribed for being a lifelong alcoholic. After being released, he was accused of the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker, a crime he most definitely did not commit. During this appearance, Geraldo brings up that Arthur’s son, whom he has not seen since age two and whom he is not permitted to have a relationship with, is watching—then before this even has time to settle in, he brings out Arthur’s ex-wife and ex-sister in law, both of whom think ol’ Tommy is a cold blooded maniac. Arthur’s lawyer joins briefly, but doesn’t do much good to make the compelling case for Arthur’s innocence. Geraldo seems pretty convinced this dude’s a killer during the show, because it backs his immediate needs. Alas, it is now 2012, Mr. Arthur’s execution date has been set for the fifth fucking time, after four previous Alabamian Governors refused to go through with it—his official website says that Mr. Arthur will be executed on March 26th of this year.
2.) Richard Drake - Richard Drake appears as the one person whose sentence has been commuted to life in prison, although he was initially sentenced to die after letting his brother hang out to dry for murdering his wife at his behest. By the time of this show, he and his brother were basically sniping at each other through proxies and media appearances, jockeying for position so that one of them could be released. They both conspired to murder Richard’s wife for the paltry sum of $10,000, and Richard was only spared the death penalty after another judge ruled the jury that sentenced him was improperly informed about his case. These dudes are both pretty legitimately evil, and Richard comes across as such—he’s nearly telegenic, but that’s not sweat and jail grease leaking from his hairline, it is pure hate and acrimony.
3. Joseph Kallinger, aka “The Shoemaker” - Kallinger, who appears pre-taped from a Hospital For The Criminally Insane just outside of Scranton, PA, grimly tells Geraldo that if he were released, he’d go back to killing again, because that’s what the voices in his hallucinations tell him to do—making him arguably the most self-aware person in this entire production, even through a haze of intense pharmaceutical tranquilizers. He is frightening, but if you read about his life, it’s hard to see him solely as the bloodthirsty monster he is depicted as. Kallinger was abused throughout his life, reportedly had an IQ of just 82, and was a life long untreated paranoid schizophrenic who repeatedly attempted to self-immolate.
4.) Gerald Stano - Stano, too, does not appear live, but is used to illustrate Rivera’s grisly thesis, which is that murderers are everywhere. The pre-taped segment regarding Stano in this program immediately precedes another where Geraldo and an “expert” attempt (very successfully) to lure children into their car in a variety of public arenas. Stano is merely propped up as a bogeyman who operated in this fashion, but he’s more “real,” I guess, than Ted Bundy, who is only briefly shown on a computer generated mug sheet. Unfortunately for Geraldo, many experts believe that the detective to whom Stano confessed many of his killings was unwittingly being taken advantage of by a classic “serial confessor.” Stano was ultimately only convicted and executed for one murder, that of 17-year-old Cathy Lee Scharf, and even then only received the sentences he did because of his own self-incriminating testimony and guilty pleas.
5.) Judith Ann Neelly (nee Adams) - Judith Ann Neelly and her husband, Alvin, are often depicted in modern crime obsessed cable programs as being a vicious duo that stalked through southern roadways picking up couples and single women to carry out heinous acts of sexual mutilation and torture upon. Judith was convicted (and sentenced to death) for the murder-by-Drano-injection of a 17 year old girl, Lisa Ann Millican. The jury, moved by her testimony regarding the abusive, manipulative nature of her relationship with her husband, did not want to send Neelly, a mother of three, to the chair. The judge disagreed. During this program, Geraldo outright mocks and ridicules Judith Neelly’s defense to her face. Multiple times. Her stoic response is admirable. She was ultimately spared death in 1999 by departing Alabama governor Fob James, and will be eligible for parole in 2014.
Yeah, so not such a great scorecard for Geraldo’s voraciously pro-CP message, which he further pathetically tries to extemporaneously wrench ten minutes of oration from at the end of the program—what, ya’ll didn’t have more footage of Charlie dancing like an organ grinder’s monkey? Maybe Ed Koch and F. Lee Bailey could have taken turns trying to one-up one another’s insane ideas about justice to fill time, but that’s risky ‘cause it’ll take the spotlight off of Geraldo… oh well. Without these interviews (which seem totally unresearched and chosen solely for shock value/the willingness of people to be interviewed about how much they hate the inmates,) this entire special would fall apart, because it’d basically just be a super-slick resume reel for a dude trying to get hired to edit grisly evening news footage. That’s the real problem here—two of the three “convicted murderers” featured live are, surprise, not quite so cold and calculating, and one of them is probably not even a murderer, which just compounds how sad and scary this whole thing is.
It’s gross throughout, but Geraldo’s MURDER: LIVE FROM DEATH ROW is worth watching, both to cement a lifetime of white-hot hatred for the man himself and his moustache, and to further inform yourself about precisely how gross and ineffective Capital Punishment is. Tommy Arthur, the inmate interviewed at the top of the live portion of this program, is widely considered to be innocent of the crimes he is going to be executed for at the end of this March. If you read this, if you watched this whole video, then take the time to read about his case, and e-mail the Governor of Alabama and let him know how you feel.
(PS. Sorry for the hiatus. Regular updates, now featuring actual long-format videos, will resume immediately.)
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