In 2002, a group of young students at Northwestern University discover an abnormal number of flaws (confessions extracted under torture, false testimony, etc.) in trials having led to death sentences in Illinois. 13 prisoners on death row are then acquitted after their cases are reviewed. The Republican governor George Ryan, a former supporter of the death penalty, finds himself facing a dilemma a few months before leaving office: ignore this report, or fight to extensively reform the system while making an enemy of his political party. To make his decision, he orders hearings for pleas for mercy for the more than 160 prisoners who are sentenced to death in this state. Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson film these hearings and interview convicts and capital punishment legal experts. By highlighting the flaws of a profoundly racist, sexist and classist judiciary system, Deadline dares to put its finger on the irreconcilable divergences regarding the death penalty, combined here in the figure of a governor holding the power of life or death.
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