Michael Perry and Jason Burkett are both 28 years old and currently reside on the state of Texas. Both stand guilty of murder. They killed three people in order to drive a red Camaro. Both blame each other, and innocence is claimed by both.
Michael Perry is set to be executed in 8 days. Jason Burkett will serve 40 years. We later learn that he was saved from the needle by a convincing testimony from his father, in which he blamed the outcome of his son’s actions on his upbringing.
These are no Red and Andy. They are both equally guilt. So why will one live and the other die? We infer that question, but that question is not asked.
In this movie, unlike most of his work, Herzog avoids saying much.
He doesn’t judge, criticize or condemn.
In his first interaction with Michael Perry, Herzog says something to the effect of “I don’t need to like you to know that killing you is wrong.” This is the one time he states his opinion, and the documentary doesn’t go about to prove his point. He lets the facts and the people he interviews tell their story.
We see a lot of footage of the crime scene. Liters of blood partially hidden under a rug, blood spatter painting a white all, a body floating on a lake, the shape of a man in the distance, covered in blankets. There is no question of the wickedness of the crime.
His interviews help to paint the picture more than the facts could. His questions are honest questions. He means to get to know the subjects and not the facts or their opinion on the facts. Herzog talks with one friend of the killers and little is said of them. He tells his story, which adds so much more to our understanding than his recollections of the killers would. In an interview Herzog recollects this moment:
When I have this chapter, the dark side of Conroe, you know who you are watching? You are watching a man who has learned how to read and write. What a glorious achievement, very admirable, and a young man who was stabbed with a screwdriver and his friend throws him a knife, and he does not pick it up. He looks at the knife, and he does not pick it up because he wants to see his children at night. So the dark side of Conroe isn’t that dark, because there’s such a phenomenal, phenomenally wonderful young man like Jared Tolbert.
He talks with the family of the victims. With a man who lost his little brother and with a woman who lost both her brother and her mother. Their pain is unmistakable.
He talks with Delbert, the father of Jason Burkett. He talks from prison, the place where he will most likely spend the remainder of his life. His was a life of violence, but years in prison seem to have improved him. They might do the same to his son, but Michael Perry won’t get the same chance.
He talks with Captain Fred Allen, who was directly involved in the execution of more than one hundred men until he just couldn’t do it anymore.
He talks with Reverend Richard Lopez, a man who spent a great deal of time with Death Row inmates, and asks him about a squirrel.
As I met these people, something stuck out. Two things seemed to tie all of the subjects. God, and violence. All believe in both. Guilty and innocent alike seek comfort in God and find consolation in Him. Their certainty is scary. Michael Perry is at his scariest when he talks with unassailing confidence of God.
He and Jason committed violent crimes. But they were also surrounded by violence. I’ve never met a person who was in jail. They had. Family and friends. Being stabbed with a screwdriver and cutting a throat weren’t rare occurrences. Yes, they could have led honest lives free of violence, but they were in the worst place to do so. There are studies that backtrack the violence in the south to the violence culture of Irish sheep herders of the mountains, who had to kill to keep their life sustenance. It’s the only civilized place in the world where Death Penalty is still in practice. The sister/daughter of two of the victims found solace in watching Michael Perry’s heart beat its last beats.
God and violence go hand in hand. If you kill your God will send you to Hell. If you kill in Texas your senator will. Herzog tells us that this is wrong one time, but his movie repeats it relentlessly.
I’m not the messiah, but you can follow me: