Theatre spotlight on falsely accused

JESSICA TOLLE
Staff Writer

KC Theatre Department’s production of “The Exonerated” by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen premieres 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Van Cliburn Auditorium.

The play is a documentary about six individuals who were tried, convicted of rape and/or murder and sent to prison. They all spent time on death row, ranging from two to 22 years. Eventually they were proven innocent and their convictions were reversed.

Every word in the play is taken from actual interviews, letters and court records.

Since the time of the interviews in the summer of 2000, more than 200 people in the U.S. have been released from death row on wrongful convictions.

Performances will continue 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb 27, to Friday, March 1, and will conclude with a 2:30 p.m. performance Sunday, March 3. There will not be a Saturday performance due to the Bach Festival scheduled in the auditorium.

Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for students and $4 for students with a KC ID.

For reservations, call Kathy Barber, director, at 903-983-8126. The box office will open one hour prior to each performance.

Michael Atkins is the set/technical designer for the production.

Barber said this play contains adult themes with adult language and she suggests no student under age 14 attend.

Children under age 6 and late arrivals will not be admitted.

Talking and/or texting will not be allowed.

Jamie Maldonado / SPECIAL TO THE FLARE || T   he Kilgore sophomore portrays a bright yoga teacher from California.  “Her name fits her perfectly because of her positive energy,” Farrell said.  Sunny, along with her husband, Jesse, are convicted of murdering a highway patrolman, a constable and stealing a police car in Broward County, Fla., in 1976. They are both put on trial and sent to death row. Sunny requests to be imprisoned in the same cell as Jesse but is denied, leaving her completely isolated from him.  Sunny is imprisoned for 16 years before her convictions are reversed. Unfortunately, Jesse is executed by the electric chair before he is proven innocent.  “I absolutely love Sunny,” Farrell said. “I wanted to play her so much…because even after all of the horrors that she went through, she stayed so positive and full of life. I admire her as a person because she showed me what true strength is.” “The main goal of the six students playing in ‘The Exonerated’ is to honor them, and tell their stories. Every day when I get on that stage, I pretend that there are people there to listen to me, and I just tell it with every ounce of energy that I can put forth,” she said.
Jamie Maldonado / SPECIAL TO THE FLARE || Kilgore sophomore Brandi Ferrell portrays a bright yoga teacher from California named Sunny Jacobs.
“Her name fits her perfectly because of her positive energy,” Farrell said.
Sunny, along with her husband, Jesse, are convicted of murdering a highway patrolman, a constable and stealing a police car in Broward County, Fla., in 1976. They are both put on trial and sent to death row.
Sunny requests to be imprisoned in the same cell as Jesse but is denied, leaving her completely isolated from him.
Sunny is imprisoned for 16 years before her convictions are reversed. Unfortunately, Jesse is executed by the electric chair before he is proven innocent.
“I absolutely love Sunny,” Farrell said. “I wanted to play her so much…because even after all of the horrors that she went through, she stayed so positive and full of life. I admire her as a person because she showed me what true strength is.”
“The main goal of the six students playing in ‘The Exonerated’ is to honor them, and tell their stories. Every day when I get on that stage, I pretend that there are people there to listen to me, and I just tell it with every ounce of energy that I can put forth,” she said.
Randi Vinson-Davis / THE FLARE || The Henderson freshman portrays a man with a very gentle personality who finds himself in an extremely rough environment. He is convicted of rape and murder of a woman who lived in the same apartment complex in Tyler as he did. He was sentenced to death row for 22 years.  “His experiences on death row were deeply traumatizing and have left him quite literally scarred for life,” Livsey said.   After prison, with help, he finds “himself living a normal life and is even married,” Livsey said.  “I’ve done a fair amount of research on him and have found myself increasingly interested in the local justice system. To me, it is disturbing to think that a man so innocent could be so heinously convicted in such a close proximity to me.”  Because this play is a documentary, it is different from the productions the theatre department has done in the past.  “I have never before played a character who was a real human being, and so I find this the most intimidating role I’ve ever played,” Livsey said. “The audience should know that the characters portrayed are in fact real people who have had their lives dropped into the cracks of society with little hope of escape. In almost all of these cases, these people were thrown away simple because they were easy to convict.”
Randi Vinson-Davis / THE FLARE || Henderson freshman Christian Livsey portrays Kerry Max Cook, a man with a very gentle personality who finds himself in an extremely rough environment. He is convicted of rape and murder of a woman who lived in the same apartment complex in Tyler as he did. He was sentenced to death row for 22 years.
“His experiences on death row were deeply traumatizing and have left him quite literally scarred for life,” Livsey said.
After prison, with help, he finds “himself living a normal life and is even married,” Livsey said.
“I’ve done a fair amount of research on him and have found myself increasingly interested in the local justice system. To me, it is disturbing to think that a man so innocent could be so heinously convicted in such a close proximity to me.”
Because this play is a documentary, it is different from the productions the theatre department has done in the past.
“I have never before played a character who was a real human being, and so I find this the most intimidating role I’ve ever played,” Livsey said. “The audience should know that the characters portrayed are in fact real people who have had their lives dropped into the cracks of society with little hope of escape. In almost all of these cases, these people were thrown away simple because they were easy to convict.”
Randi Vinson-Davis / THE FLARE || The Pittsburg freshman portrays an African American poet from Chicago. In 1974, he was hitchhiking in Florida when he was wrongfully accused of a crime. He is convicted of rape of a 17-year-old girl and murder of a 27-year-old man.  The woman reported that they had been hitchhiking and picked up in Fort Myers, Fla., by a black man who shot her boyfriend dead and then beat and raped her.  Tibbs was stopped 220 miles north of Fort Myers and questioned about the crime.  The police took Tibbs’ picture, but he did not fit the victim’s description of the perpetrator.  However, the phtoto was sent to Fort Myers and the victim identified Tibbs as the attacker.  “It messed with his mind and made him think that the justice system could do whatever they wanted to,” Armstrong said, “but it did give him wisdom and maturity.”  The all-white jury convicted Tibbs of his crime and he was sentenced to death.  “My character is a good person and was only arrested because of his race,” Armstrong said.  Preparing for the role has taken, “research of the content and the character,” Armstrong said. “This is my first serious role and it’s been a struggle, but I love it.”
Randi Vinson-Davis / THE FLARE || Pittsburg freshman Demarcus Armstrong portrays an African American poet from Chicago, Delbert Tibbs. In 1974, he was hitchhiking in Florida when he was wrongfully accused of a crime. He is convicted of rape of a 17-year-old girl and murder of a 27-year-old man.
The woman reported that they had been hitchhiking and picked up in Fort Myers, Fla., by a black man who shot her boyfriend dead and then beat and raped her.
Tibbs was stopped 220 miles north of Fort Myers and questioned about the crime.
The police took Tibbs’ picture, but he did not fit the victim’s description of the perpetrator.
However, the phtoto was sent to Fort Myers and the victim identified Tibbs as the attacker.
“It messed with his mind and made him think that the justice system could do whatever they wanted to,” Armstrong said, “but it did give him wisdom and maturity.”
The all-white jury convicted Tibbs of his crime and he was sentenced to death.
“My character is a good person and was only arrested because of his race,” Armstrong said.
Preparing for the role has taken, “research of the content and the character,” Armstrong said. “This is my first serious role and it’s been a struggle, but I love it.”