The Exonerated

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The Exonerated
Written byErik Jensen
Jessica Blank
Directed byBob Balaban
StarringDavid Brown Jr.
Brian Dennehy
Danny Glover
Delroy Lindo
Aidan Quinn
Susan Sarandon
David Soul
Lee Tergesen
Theme music composerDavid Robbins
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
ProducersGreg Schultz
Steven Tabakin
Karen Wolfe
EditorAndy Keir
Running time95 minutes
Original release
ReleaseJanuary 27, 2005 (2005-01-27)

The Exonerated is a made-for-cable television film that dramatizes the stories of six people, some of whom, were wrongfully convicted of murder and other offenses, placed on death row, and later exonerated and freed after serving varying years in prison. It was based on a successful stage play of the same name written by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank and first aired on the former CourtTV cable television network on January 27, 2005. It is directed by Bob Balaban and was produced by Radical Media.

Actors played the roles of the five men and one woman. It stars David Brown, Jr. (the only cast member to have appeared in the stage play - he played Robert Earl Hayes), Brian Dennehy as Gary Gauger, Danny Glover as David Keaton, Delroy Lindo as Delbert Tibbs, Aidan Quinn as Kerry Max Cook and Susan Sarandon as Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs. The script was based on the exonerees' personal experiences as well as court records and media accounts.

Jessica Blank, who is married to Erik Jensen, got the idea for the play when she moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to New York City. She and Jensen attended a conference about the death penalty and listened to stories about wrongful convictions and confessions gained via torture, threats and deception. The couple spent the summer of 2000 interviewing exonerees throughout the United States and adapted the stories of six people into a script.

The play was first presented in New York City; the final performance was in Minneapolis in 2002. For their efforts, Jensen and Blank received the Champion of Justice Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.[1]

The exonerated[edit]

  • Kerry Max Cook: Convicted of murdering a neighbor in Texas in 1977; exonerated in 1997.[2]
  • Gary Gauger: Convicted of murdering his mother and father in Illinois in 1993; exonerated in 1996.[3]
  • Robert Earl Hayes: African-American racetrack worker convicted of the murder of a white woman in Florida in 1990; found not guilty at retrial in 1997. New DNA testing later confirmed his guilt.[4][5]
  • Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs: Convicted, along with common-law husband, Jesse Tafero, and his friend, Walter Rhodes, of murdering Philip Black, a Florida state trooper and Donald Irwin, a visiting Canadian constable in 1976; Jacobs was not exonerated. Her death sentence was overturned in 1981, and she was sentenced to life with a 25-year minimum mandatory sentence. In 1992 her case was reversed on appeal, and she pleaded to second-degree murder, and was released on time served.[6] Tafero was incinerated in a botched electrocution in 1990. In 2011, she married Peter Pringle,[7] who had himself been exonerated after being sentenced to death in Ireland for the murder of two officers of the Garda Síochána, the Irish police force, Henry Byrne and John Morley. The officers were shot while chasing three armed masked men who had robbed a bank and were fleeing the crime scene. Their car collided with the getaway vehicle and the robbers opened fire. In Ireland, the murders caused national outrage. A former IRA volunteer, Pringle was in the area and came under suspicion.[8][9]
  • David Keaton: convicted of murdering a Florida police officer in 1971; exonerated in 1973.[10]
  • Delbert Tibbs: African-American Florida man convicted of murdering a white man and raping his girlfriend in 1974; exonerated in 1976. He was eventually freed in 1979 after serving time for an unrelated charge.[11]

At the end of the movie, each actor is voiced over by the real life exonerees and then fades to show them as their current selves at the time of filming.[citation needed]

Aidan Quinn reprised his role as Kerry Max Cook in the staging of The Exonerated at the Dublin Theatre Festival in Dublin, Ireland, in October 2006 as well as the stage version in New York City. David Soul took over the role of Gary Gauger for several of the Dublin performances.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DNA and Post-Conviction Tests. "Champion". Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  2. ^ "Former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook freed after 20 years". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-08-09.
  3. ^ "Illinois Death Penalty" Archived 2014-01-18 at the Wayback Machine, PBS Newshour, February 4, 2000.
  4. ^ "Hayes: Exonerated: Center on Wrongful Convictions: Northwestern Law". Archived from the original on 2006-09-08. Retrieved 2006-08-09.
  5. ^ Medina, Eduardo (16 June 2022). "They Hoped a DNA Test Would Clear Him. It Did the Opposite". The New York Times.
  6. ^ 952 F.2d 1282: Sonia Jacobs a.k.a. Sonia Linder.
  7. ^ Huma Qureshi. "Former death row couple: 'Life turned out beautifully' | Life and style". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  8. ^ Qureshi, Huma (22 June 2013). "Former death row couple: 'Life turned out beautifully'". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Sunny Jacobs & Peter Pringle (June 26, 2013). "Sunny Jacobs & Peter Pringle". Archived from the original on 2013-07-19. Retrieved July 23, 2013. Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs and Peter Pringle each served years on death row—Jacobs 17 years in the United States and Pringle 15 years in Ireland.... Their wedding in late 2011 was perhaps the first of its kind: the union of two exonerated death-row inmates.
    The wedding was attended by actresses who had portrayed Sunny: when she spoke her "I do," they chorused, "We do!"
  10. ^ "Deadline: David Keaton". Archived from the original on 9 September 2004. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  11. ^ "About Delbert Tibbs". Archived from the original on 2006-09-03. Retrieved 2006-08-09.

External links[edit]