I have always had a great interest in stories of wrongful convictions. The judicial system presents one of the starkest examples of the power of narrative. In court two opposing sides use a handful of verifiable details to craft their own narratives explaining events. The more persuasive story wins and it becomes the officially sanctioned truth. The consequences of story-telling are never more pronounced, they can literally be a matter of life and death.
I recently read a book called The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution by James S. Liebman. It is the story of Carlos Deluna, whose “Some other guy named Carlos did it” murder defense seemed so absurd on its face that he was easily convicted and sent to his death for a crime… committed by some other guy named Carlos.
There was one particular detail in the story that stood out to me. The book quotes the Christian minister who accompanied DeLuna to the death chamber.
“My responsibility, according to the warden, was to be there in the Death House… when [the condemned prisoner] walked in. I was to be the face that he saw outside of the guards… [The warden’s] charge to me was, and these are his words, ‘to seduce their emotions so they won’t fight getting out of the cell or getting up on the table.'”