Race to Execution

Compelling personal narratives and the results of research expose the factors that influence who lives and who dies at the hands of the state.

Film Signature Image
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
March 27, 2007
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2008 CINE Golden Eagle Awards-CINE Golden Eagle Award, People and Places
  • Producer/Director

    Rachel Lyon

    Rachel Lyon is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and a professor at Queens College in New York City. She has directed several acclaimed documentaries, including Mr. Dreyfuss Goes to Washington for the History Channel, Shadow Over Tibet for PBS, and the Emmy Award winner, Men Who Molest, for PBS’s Frontline. Lyon has created more than 60 Show more documentaries for PBS, NBC, CNN, National Geographic, and the History Channel, among others. Show less


    Jim Lopes

    Jim Lopes is an entertainment and media attorney. A Harvard graduate, he has experience working in film, television, and music. He was formerly an executive with a subsidiary of MCA Universal, where he first worked with Rachel Lyon. Lopes later served as general counsel for CBS/Fox Video, licensing hundreds of films. More recently, he has served as a vice Show more president and associate general counsel for Reader’s Digest and its music, publishing, and television divisions. Lopes is currently producing a documentary on the Cape Verdean whaling families of New England. Show less

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    The Film

    Race discrimination infects America’s capital punishment system. According to a landmark study regarding race and the death penalty, a black defendant who kills a white victim is up to 30 times more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant who kills a black victim. Race to Execution traces the fates of two death row inmates, Robert Tarver in Russell County, Alabama and Madison Hobley in Chicago, Illinois. Their compelling personal stories are enlarged and enriched by attorneys who fought for these men’s lives, and by prosecutors, criminal justice scholars, and experts in the fields of law and the media.

    Race to Execution reveals how, beyond DNA and the issue of innocence, the shameful open secret of America’s capital punishment system is a matter of race. Once a victim’s body is discovered, his or her race — and the race of the accused — deeply influence the legal process: how a crime scene is investigated and the deployment of police resources, the interrogation and arrest of major suspects, how the media portrays the crime, and ultimately, the jury selection and sentencing.

    With key 2005 Supreme Court decisions overturning death sentences in Texas and California due to racial discrimination in jury selection, Race to Execution offers a timely analysis. Neither advocating nor repudiating capital punishment, the film explores the inherent imbalances that lead to inaccuracy and unfairness in the application of the ultimate sentence.