What did he do?

If Sean Combs makes the leap to actor (or even movie star) you gotta think he’ll drop all the hip-hop shit. “Puff Daddy,” “Puffy,” “P. Diddy”… I mean, the studios aren’t gonna play that game. And I thought he did a nice job in the movie Monster’s Ball. A powerful opening scene in which he says good-bye to his wife (Halle Berry) and his son… a quiet, powerful scene where he sketches his guards… and, finally, his execution in the electric chair.

Days later I found myself wondering, “What did Puffy’s character do to get the chair?” But then, the movie wasn’t about capital punishment, so it really didn’t matter. P. Diddy getting the chair was a necessary plot element and there was no suggestion that he was innocent. Maybe the long, smoking, frying execution scene was simply telling us that lethal injection is more humane. And, having witnessed the execution of James Henry Hampton (March, 2000), I can tell you that it is. Mr. Hampton went very quietly, indeed.

My first thought was to do a Google search for websites dealing with capital punishment in the movies (The Chamber, Dead Man Walking, The Green Mile, I Want to Live, True Crime). I havn’t found such a site yet but remain convinced there has to be one. What I’m wondering is, in how many of those movies, do they show us or tell us the crime for which the condemned is being executed?

I understand that, from an artistic standpoint, the writer or director is under no obligation to provide that background. If you feel that capital punishment is wrong in an of itself, you probably think the crime doesn’t matter. But I’m not sure we can reach morally suportable conclusions about capital punishment without looking squarely at the crime.

I decided to witness the execution of James Henry Hampton, in part, because it seemed like something I should be willing to do if I was going to be part of a society that put certain criminals to death. Doesn’t it follow that those opposed to the death penalty should be willing to visit a fresh crime scene? Step around the fresh blood and talk to the victim’s family? Just once. If you still feel that capital punishment is wrong, fair enough.

Maybe I should cut some slack for the writers and director of Monster’s Ball. The movie is about redemption, not capital punishment. Lawrence Musgrove told his son, “I’m a bad man. Don’t be like me.” And no matter how you feel about capital punishment, the electric chair is a bad way to go.

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