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Television Reviews : Measured Look at Death Row Parolees

Meet Abu Qadir Al-Amin, solid citizen: a Muslim minister, co-owner of a bakery in Oakland and father of four kids. It’s hard to believe he’s the same person who at 18 killed a security guard while high on heroin.

That 1969 crime earned Al-Amin a cell on San Quentin’s Death Row, where he and 106 men and women, including Sirhan Sirhan and Charles Manson, awaited execution.

In 1972, however, a landmark court case commuted their death sentences to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Subsequent legislation quickly reinstituted the death penalty in California, but the Class of ’72 was spared.

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Including Al-Amin, 40 of these once-doomed rapists, killers and mass murderers have now been allowed to return to society. What they have made of their “second lives” is the subject of an intelligent, hard-hitting, unsensationalized ABC News special, “Life After Death Row” (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42 at 9 tonight).

Although ABC tracked down all 40, anchor Tom Jarriel notes that most have changed their names, fabricated new resumes and quietly blended back into society.

Most, says ABC, are married and have children and jobs. Six are back in prison (one charged with murder) while others, such as the misfit whose current address is an abandoned milk truck parked on a corner in San Jose, are living on the edge.

ABC provides a good sampling of the 40, beginning with murderer Bill McClellan, who was paroled in May after 22 years behind bars. Walking out of San Quentin, he describes himself as “resurrected,” and with the important civilizing influences and support of his wife and kids (conceived during conjugal visits), it looks like he’ll be able to keep his promise to make good on the rest of his life.

Others have not redeemed themselves so fully, however, as their quick return to crime on the outside demonstrates. After a woman graphically describes how she was raped and brutalized for 48 hours by one alumni of the Class of ’72, the former head of the parole board who had allowed this “psychotic in remission” to be released says, “I am appalled by what I did.”

The documentary neither takes sides nor advances any conclusions based on its findings. Instead, Jarriel, who co-wrote with producer Janice Tomlin, interviews cynical prosecutors, bitter cops and outraged victims to produce a measured look at the merits of paroling Death Row inmates.


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