Robert Blecker is one of the most outspoken — and unexpected — proponents of the death penalty. He does not try to base his argument on the death penalty as deterrent or to prevent the opportunity for further crimes. The self-described “retributivist advocate of the death penalty has managed to alienate both sides of the debate on the politically divisive and morally complex issue of capital punishment….[H]e makes a powerful case for the death penalty as retribution, but only for the ‘worst of the worst’ offenders.”
Defining what ‘worst of the worst’ means is a constant and sometimes painful struggle for Blecker, and as a part of his continuing effort to define that category he first came into contact with someone who appears to qualify according to anyone’s standard. That man is Daryl Holton, who shot his three children and their half-sibling to death in 1997 because, he said, he thought it was better for them to be dead than to live with their mother.
This documentary about the relationship between the two men does not take sides. It simply documents their conversations, which are vivid, engrossing, and surprising. As Blecker gets to know Holton, he finds it difficult to maintain the sense of outrage that is an essential part of his justification for the death penalty, even in light of the unspeakable nature of the crime. The deepest questions of what we are as humans echo throughout the film. Is Holton’s crime so inhuman that he must be insane and therefore less culpable? Is it inevitable that interviewing him will establish a connection that makes it more difficult to advocate for his being put to death?
This is less a film about the death penalty than it is about more fundamental issues of purpose and meaning. It is a provocative film about deeply troubling issues. No matter what your perspective, it will be challenged. And no matter how you come out, it is that very engagement and need for understanding that ultimately reaches the deepest part of the human experience and responsibility.