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The Execution of Wanda Jean

4.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In 2001 Wanda Jean Allen was given a lethal injection by the state of Oklahoma, making her the first black woman to be executed in America in fifty years. In THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN, award-winning filmmaker Liz Garbus (The Farm: Angola, USA; Girlhood) continues her investigations into the American criminal justice system with the compelling story of convicted murderess Wanda Jean Allen. Allen was sentenced to death in 1989 after shooting her lover, Gloria Leathers, whom she met in prison while serving time for another killing. This quietly powerful film chronicles the tragically methodical way the state of Oklahoma proceeds to execute Wanda, a woman with a low IQ bordering on retardation, despite the deperate efforts of her family, legal team, and mental health and anti-capital punishment advocates. As pleas for clemency and legal maneuvers are gradually exhausted, there’s a chilling inevitability to Wanda’s plight, which she bears with a rare strength and introspection. THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN is an intimate account of a uniquely American story. Its power lies in its portrait of simple human dignity in the face of inevitable death. DVD Features: Filmmaker Biography; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection

In January 2001, we're told, no less than eight executions were scheduled in the state of Oklahoma. By far the most prominent case was that of Wanda Jean Allen, whose story is documented in The Execution of Wanda Jean, an absorbing film directed and produced by Liz Garbus. The fact that the 41-year-old Allen was to become the first black woman executed in the United States in nearly 50 years was the principal source of her notoriety, but not the only one. There was no doubt that she had shot her lover, Gloria Leathers (whom she had met while serving time for a previous killing), in 1988. Yet those who took up Wanda Jean's cause argued that her apparent "neuro-psychological problems"--she was, they said, "borderline retarded"--hadn't been taken into account, or even brought up, during her trial. Over a decade later, a new defense team, led by an indefatigable legal investigator named David Presson, attempted to win clemency, an effort that is the focus of Garbus's film. Obviously, they failed. The Oklahoma Clemency Board immediately rejected her appeal, as did Gov. Frank Keating, despite the efforts of Rev. Jesse Jackson and others, and Allen, who remained preternaturally calm until the end, died on the scheduled date. So much for the facts. What The Execution of Wanda Jean is really about is the debate over capital punishment in general, and it's an argument that raged even within Gloria Leathers' own family (the victim's mother pled for mercy, while her sister argued that Allen should be "chain(ed) to a tree and beat(en) to death," because lethal injection, Oklahoma's preferred method, was too painless). Does a convicted double murderer deserve to die? Is revenge a good enough reason to apply this ultimate punishment? These are questions too profound to be answered in a 90-minute documentary, but at the very least, The Execution of Wanda Jean provides some serious and not easily digestible food for thought. --Sam Graham

Product Details

  • Actors: Wanda Jean Allen, Jesse Jackson, David Presson
  • Directors: Liz Garbus
  • Producers: Liz Garbus, Chandra Simon, Julie Gaither, Nancy Abraham, Rory Kennedy
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: November 29, 2005
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BB154I
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,028 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Execution of Wanda Jean" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Yes, Wanda Jean Allen committed a terrible crime. There is no question about that. But Wanda Jean Allen should not have been executed by the state of Oklahoma under any circumstances. Her defense attorneys presented convincing evidence that Wanda suffered significant mental impairments which decreased her cognitive abilities to understand the consequences of her actions. They presented psychiatric evidence which backed up their claim. State prosecutors also lied at the clemency hearing and got away with it. After the hearing was concluded, the Camera man caught site of the clemency board members congratulating each other on their decision and the board members were acting like they had just scored a touchdown at a football game. This execution should never have been carried out. I believe in the death penalty but this woman should not have been executed.
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I won't go into the details of this incredibly engrossing documentary but I did want to express my own kudos. This was certainly a film I just could not take my eyes off of, and though the mere thought of developing an affection and sympathy towards a confessed killer may incense some (as it should)there does come a time (If You are truly a Believer in God) when forgiveness must win out. As engaging as it is, this is not the type of film you will pull out regularly to watch again and again. But at the same time You will be glad it is in your collection. For documentary film making this is a true masterpiece. I believe Wanda Jean came to terms with God, and developed immoveable and deep Faith. I also believe that her mental state should have spared her life. But if there is a positive to be found it is that, through the tragic circumstances she found herself in that led to her earthly demise, she may have found eternal life.
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THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN is well-made and worth seeing. Clearly the filmmaker had no agenda or axe to grind. All sides are fairly presented; viewers aren't led or told what to think, and that's admirable.

Capital punishment is one of those polarizing topics that few have no opinion on. Since others here have expressed their views, so will I.

I believe in the death penalty and that "an eye for an eye" is an instruction to men and not the province solely of the Almighty. I also believe in "Instant Karma," meaning the wrongs a person does in THIS life will be paid for in THIS life, and sooner than one would imagine. In the case of Miss Allen, that karma took over a decade but it finally got her, and justifiably.

A deciding factor to my mind that Wanda Jean Allen earned an execution day is the overwhelming evidence of premeditation. Besides a similar prior murder, a greeting card that Wanda gave the victim contained in her own hand, "If you try to leave me, I'll kill you." It matters not if this is the threat of a genius or someone with just enough intelligence to hold down a medical-related job, as was the case with Miss Allen. Her prediction became tragic reality after a chase that ended at a police station parking lot. Gloria Leathers was sent to an early grave by a point-blank bullet to the belly, and Wanda Jean's fate was sealed by her own hand.
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By Sixx on November 12, 2007
Format: DVD
Like the other viewer, I watched this with a heavy heart. It's's so sad. It is a documentary, and you can see how Wanda Jeans lawyers tried her case to the end. My heart goes out to the victim the their family, because I don't believe anyone deserves to die at the hands of another human being. This includes Gloria, as well as the judicial system for injecting Wanda Jean with a fatal cocktail.

It's crazy, how someone can be sentenced to death for murder in the 1st degree, or premeditated murder......but isn't the death penalty premeditated murder? Death Row inmates know down to the hour when they will die. I do not support the Death Penalty. The families of the victims still hurt. The victim is still gone. And after the inmate is put to sleep right before that fatal moment, they feel no pain and no remorse. Their suffering is over. They don't have to remember their victims.

I can remember a story where a young man killed someone's daughter by accident. The family took out a judgment to request that he send 1.00 to the family every week until the girl's would have been 18th birthday. That was not about the was about making that young man REMEMBER this young girl. That hurts more than taking a life away...making you constantly remember a life that YOU took away.

I believe in GOD. That is the problem with the government, is that they try to play GOD. At the end of the day, GOD is not going to look at their action any different then HE would Wanda Jean Allen......She murdered someone, and so did the person that put the needle in her vein.
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Format: DVD
This is a very good case study of one woman's life, crimes, redemption, and execution. Wanda Jean Allen killed 2 women, and I believe the death penalty was justified in her case. Had she received an adequate amount of jail time and rehabilitation for the first murder, the second murder may have been preventable.

Wanda Jean Allen was not only a double murderer, she was a disgrace to the system and prosecutors who gave her a plea bargain in the first case. I believe to an extent that she was executed to appease the public, many of whom had a hard time with the fact that she only served two years for her first murder. The system was just as reposnsible for Gloria's death as Wanda Jean was. But, someone had to pay, and that someone was Wanda Jean.

Her upbringing was poor to say the least. Viewers have no problem believing she had a terribly low IQ. Personally, I feel that from watching this documentary, the whole family had low IQs and mental problems. However, this does not justify murder. I felt no sorrow for her when she was executed. Perhaps that's because this documentary never succeeded in making me totally sympathetic to her plight. I felt more sorrow for her first victim, but not her second. The second victim got involved with her knowing what she had done to be incarcerated. Did Gloria think this violent woman would not kill her some day? I did feel intense sorrow for Gloria's mother. No parent should have to see their child gunned down in cold blood right in front of their very eyes.

So many questions remain: Did she really deserve to die? Was she truly sorry before her death? Had she truly found Christ? Would she have killed again if spared the death penalty and granted parole at 65 years old? We will never know.

But, one thing is for sure...her debt to society is now paid in full.
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