Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wrongful execution, right shutter time

"Michael Austin recalls his 27 years in prison before being exonerated in 2003 during a news conference with five exonerated men, including three who had been on death row, in the Anne Arundel County Delegation Room in the House Office building in Annapolis."

I was watching television last night and as I surfed the channels mindlessly trying to find something that struck my attention, I caught the end of a small story on a recent subject of mine from earlier this month - Ray Krone.

Krone was the 100th person to be exonerated when he left Arizona's death row in 2002, and was at a public hearing to help spread the word against what he says is a broken system with the death penalty in Annapolis.

Although a indirect subject during the assignment, Krone spoke during a public hearings on capital punishment, in which the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment explored the risk of innocent people being executed. Many of the people whom were exonerated told their story of their own wrongful conviction.

In addition to Krone, another half-dozen exonerated men spoke, including Michael Austin (above), who spent 27 years in prison for murder before a re-examination of the evidence that led to his freedom in 2001 and then a governor's pardon and a $1.4 million award from the state.

It was pretty interesting to hear these men talk about their time behind bars when they knew deep down inside they were innocent. It also added an untold side to the ongoing debate of whether or not to abolish the death penalty in Maryland.

Now this assignment was a typical press conference setup. A lectern in the middle of a room in Annapolis and a television cameraman with more than 25 people filling the space.

Most of these men, while happy to have their freedom again, didn't have much emotion. So I tried to focus on subtle moments.

I was once told that it's the subtle moments that can often be storytelling, whether or not we initally think so. In this case it was Austin rubbing his forehead as he tried to recall exact dates and accounts of his time in prison.

To me, this image tells the story of these wrongfully convicted men trying to pass along their trials and tribulations of capital punishment. In comparison, I could have easily made a image of them simply standing behind a microphone addressing reporters, the public and others listening.

Austin wasn't upset, but it was obvious he didn't like having to dig deep inside himself to recall what he said was an unfortunate time in his life. Much like the others, they had some emotion of frustration and sadness, but not visually apparent the entire time.

I am happy I focused on this quick, subtle moment to help tell the story to the readers.


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