There have been a slew of documentaries stumping against the death penalty over the years, but Ted Schillinger’s Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead is one of the few that makes a strong case in favor of capital punishment, via the passion of its title character. Lawyer Robert Blecker makes no claims that the death penalty is a deterrent. Instead, he considers himself a “retributivist,” who feels the punishment should fit the crime. The average hood who shoots and kills a store clerk has no business being hooked up to the needle, in Blecker’s opinion, but he believes child-rapists, traitors, and cold-blooded killers should be executed quickly and painfully—preferably by firing squad. No lounging around on death row, filing appeal after appeal. Just sentence, execution, and justice.
Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead isn’t solely about Blecker, though. While hauling his camcorder from death row to death row in order to document how non-punitive prisons can be, Blecker met Daryl Holton, a Tennessee man who shot his three sons and his ex-wife’s daughter to send them on to heaven while they were still innocent, before his ex’s lifestyle could put them on the path to hell. Holton’s lawyers argued that he was mentally unbalanced, but Holton—a well-spoken man with a razor-sharp mind—argued that he knew what he was doing, and that he needed to die. Blecker took a liking to Holton immediately, even though the killer presented a paradox. If you give a guilty man the death he wants, is that really the punishment he deserves?
Schillinger combines Blecker-shot footage with some contextual interviews of his own, as well as excerpts from Blecker’s lecture and debating tours. Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead is straightforward as documentary filmmaking, but it’s fascinating as a dialectic on fairness. Blecker is no kook; he’s a vivacious guy with a sense of humor about himself and his cause. The movie’s drama derives from the extended conversations in which Blecker attempts to get Holton to abandon his self-righteousness and feel some real, soul-wracking guilt for what he did. The irony is that in his own way, Blecker is as confined by his moral logic as Holton, and watching Blecker grapple with that realization is tense and exciting—like an action movie for people who miss their high-school debate teams.