A few years ago, while in the United States making my previous documentary, I was struck by the visceral attachment many U.S. citizens have to the death penalty. Although there seemed to be a rather superficial knowledge of this issue, in some areas--particularly in the South--support for the death penalty seemed like a belief, a real "faith." This is the question I wanted to ask with Lindy Lou, Juror Number Two: What becomes of such a belief after being confronted with the reality of a death sentence?
Lindy Lou, Juror Number Two is a film that deals with the criminal justice system in an unusual way. It is not about the murderer or the murders themselves, nor is it about the victims or the investigators. It is about us, about our moral responsibility when the state gives the people the power to decide about someone's life. Because any citizen in America could potentially serve on a jury, I thought this story would offer an opportunity to shift our vision of the death penalty from a vague and distant idea to something more tangible and complex. Jurors are an essential element of the criminal justice system, but no one knows how they feel after leaving the courthouse. More than twenty years later, Lindy is still struggling with the idea that she had a hand in a man's death. A strong supporter of capital punishment when she entered the courtroom--an "eye for an eye person," as she says--she became its collateral victim as she realized she had set an execution in motion and wondered whether her life would ever be normal again.
There was no doubt about Bobby Wilcher's guilt in a brutal double homicide. The man never expressed remorse, and one could think he was amongst the worst of the worst for whom the death penalty is supposedly designed. Therefore, Lindy's ordeal lies on a moral level: What legitimacy did she have to decide the fate of a man? She questions the morality of being allowed to send someone to his death, and as of today she still has not found an answer.
Meeting Lindy Lou was a gift. A gun-toting Baptist Republican, she is part of an America that is often stereotyped, and she certainly shook up all the preconceived ideas I had. As conservative as she is, she had the courage to question her beliefs and to admit that sometimes the world is more complex than she wanted it to be. As she met with her fellow jurors, I admired her ability to listen, and I was startled to see that many had almost never talked about this experience. None of them felt any pride or satisfaction in fulfilling their civic duty and serving justice the way they did. Some even had to set up different coping mechanisms: one of them in particular talks about how he had to remove his emotions from the process in order to hand down a death sentence. Participating in the killing of a man requires you to lose part of your humanity.
While filming, I realized that although Lindy raised the question of their common responsibility, she also recreated a sense of community with these jurors. It may be a cliché to say that America--and probably most of the Western world--has never been as divided as it is today. I feel this sense of division is amplified by our ability to emphasize what is ugly within "the other," so maybe it is time to find and promote what is best from the other side. It is more difficult; it forbids simplistic answers and it commands us to revise our judgments. Most of all, it requires us to listen to each other. People like Lindy Lou show us the way.
-- Florent Vassault