Charles Petzold

An Appeal for Clemency

December 9, 2013
New York, N.Y.

Last year, Deirdre and I were invited by a friend of ours to a unique theatrical event. This friend had been working with some men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s in rehearsing and performing scenes from classic American plays. None of these men had ever acted professionally. They were now ready for an audience, and we were to be part of it.

What made this event unique is that these non-professional actors were all inmates of the Otisville Correctional Facility, and we’d be visiting the prison to see the performance! It was an exciting experience and a thrilling evening of theater. Deirdre and I were among just a few outsiders for the event. Most of the audience were other prisoners.

Afterwards, everyone mingled and talked, and Deirdre struck up a conversation with one of the performers named Pascual. It turned out that Deirdre and he were both working on movie scripts, and they exchanged titles of helpful books on the subject of screenwriting, and agreed to read each other’s scripts.

Afterwards, Deirdre and Pascual exchanged mail — not email, for these inmates don’t have access to the Internet — but several months went by before the topic came up concerning the crime that resulted in Pascual’s incarceration.

Pascual Carpenter has been in prison since 1990. At the age of 18 he was involved in a subway robbery in New York City that went terribly wrong, and which resulted in the murder of Brian Watkins, who was with his family from Utah to see the U.S. Open.

Although Pascual wasn’t near the spot where Brian Watkins was murdered, New York State has a felony-murder rule: Anybody participating in the commission of a felony during which a murder occurs can be prosecuted for that murder. Partly because of the high-profile nature of the crime, Pascual Carpenter and the other defendants were given sentences of 25 years to life. What this means is that after 25 years, he becomes eligible for parole, which is considered individually based on a number of factors.

During the two decades that Pascual Carpenter has been in prison, he has transformed himself: He has pursued numerous avenues of education and feels nothing but remorse and regret for his participation in the crime that led to the murder of Brian Watkins.

The family and friends of Pascual Carpenter have organized a clemency appeal, which is a request to the Governor of New York State not for exoneration or a pardon, but to make a decision that there is no compelling reason to keep Pascual Carpenter in prison.

Upon learning of this clemency appeal, Deirdre’s activist instincts clicked in, and she decided to make a short video entitled “23 Reasons Why 23 Years is Enough: Clemency for Pascual Carpenter.” Deirdre interviewed Pascual in prison (in the interim he had been transferred from Otisville to Sing Sing to take advantage of an educational program there) and several other people involved in clemency and parole, including former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, in the process driving over 2,000 miles. Then began a laborious period of editing many hours of video into a coherent narrative.

Considering that Deirdre is a first-time documentarian — and even if you didn’t know that — the resultant video is amazing and quite compelling. Here’s the version posted to YouTube:

Don’t hesitate to add your support in whatever way you can. Deirdre’s web site for the video has links to sign the clemency appeal and to donate money to help her promote the video.