The Execution Of Wanda Jean

This wrenching documentary from Academy Award nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus chronicles the final three months in the life of Wanda Jean Allen, the first woman to be executed by the State of Oklahoma after a 25 year moratorium on the death penalty. On December 1, 1988, Allen fatally shot her lover, Gloria Leathers, in the parking lot of an Oklahoma City...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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This wrenching documentary from Academy Award nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus chronicles the final three months in the life of Wanda Jean Allen, the first woman to be executed by the State of Oklahoma after a 25 year moratorium on the death penalty. On December 1, 1988, Allen fatally shot her lover, Gloria Leathers, in the parking lot of an Oklahoma City police station in full view of Leathers' mother, Ruby Wilson. It was clearly a crime of passion, and not the first for Wanda Jean. Seven years earlier, she shot and killed a friend in a strikingly similar incident. Wanda Jean served four years for manslaughter — she met Gloria Leathers, a fellow inmate, while in prison — but in the eyes of the State of Oklahoma, the murder of Leathers on top of that previous conviction added up to a death sentence for Allen. That fact that she had been diagnosed with brain damage when a teenager and was considered to be borderline mentally retarded was kept from the jury. Allen was convicted of first-degree murder, and her execution scheduled for January 11, 2001. Garbus began filming the story of Allen three months before she was scheduled to die, and her film follows Allen and her tireless legal team from their hearing in front of the Oklahoma Parole and Pardon Board — a notoriously tough group that had never granted a single request for clemency — right through to the hopeless last-minute appeals and the bitter outcome. It's a complex film that, like Garbus's Oscar nominated THE FARM: ANGOLA, U.S.A., sensitively examines general issues of race and justice among the poor, and specifically raises serious questions about the death penalty and asks what good the execution of a mentally challenged woman could possibly do. As far as courageous Ruby Wilson is concerned, killing Allen won't make a bit of difference in her daughter's death; Ruby has forgiven Wanda Jean, and asks we all rise above the eye-for-an-eye mentality. (Gloria's sister Mary Leathers, however, is somewhat less forgiving.) While only touching on the nature of the relationship between Allen and the woman she eventually killed in a paroxysm of panic and jealously, the film also portrays how gay relationships are perceived and literally judged in the heart of the Bible belt. Most memorably, it shows the remarkable vitality of a woman who will soon be dead, and the suffering of Allen's family, innocent people whose greatest pain is only just beginning.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This wrenching documentary from Academy Award nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus chronicles the final three months in the life of Wanda Jean Allen, the first woman to be executed by the State of Oklahoma after a 25 year moratorium on the death penalty. On Dece… (more)

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