Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Synopsis: Documentary about Fred Leuchter, an engineer who became an expert on execution devices and was later hired by revisionist historian Ernst Zundel to "prove" that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Leuchter published a controversial report confirming Zundel's position, which ultimately ruined his own career. Most of the footage is of Leuchter, puttering around execution facilities or chipping away at the walls of Auschwitz, but Morris also interviews various historians, associates, and neighbors.
Director(s): Errol Morris
Production: Lions Gate Releasing
  1 win & 8 nominations.
 
IMDB:
7.5
Metacritic:
78
Rotten Tomatoes:
100%
PG-13
Year:
1999
91 min
152 Views


[ Fred Leuchter,Jr.]

I became involved...

in the manufacture

of execution equipment...

because I was concerned

with the deplorable condition...

of the hardware that's in

most of the states'prisons,

which generally results

in torture...

prior to death.

A number of years ago

I was asked by a state...

to look at

their electric chair.

I was surprised

at the condition

of the equipment...

and I indicated to them

what changes should be made...

to bring the equipment

up to the point of doing

a humane execution.

Beyond making

recommendations for changes,

I sat down, on my own time

and at my own expense,

and made a new design

and new equipment...

available to the states...

utilizing electrocution...

at a price far lower than

they would have to deal with...

if they hired

an engineering firm

to redesign a specific item.

The equipment

is all standardized,

it all meets the current

electrical requirements

for electrocution...

and the pricing is such...

that it's similar

to what you'd pay for

an off-the-shelf item,

even though it's made up.

They essentially pay

for the parts, the labor

and the installation,

and a 20-percent markup,

which is more than fair.

We are testing

the electrocution system...

here at

the Tennessee State Prison.

This is connected to

the execution system...

in place of

the electric chair,

and the system thinks

that this is a human body.

It consists of a series

of heavy-duty resistors...

cooled by four fans.

I will now switch on

the fans...

[ Click, Fans Humming ]

and begin

the cooling process.

We then proceed

to the power supply.

We turn on

the main circuit breaker.

You can see the voltage has

increased to 2,640 volts.

We begin the test

at the control console...

for the electric chair.

We turn the fail-safe system on

to operation.

Power up.

Computer on.

And then I push the button

for operation.

The human body

is not easy to destroy.

It's not easy to take a life

humanely and painlessly,

without doing

a great deal of damage

to the individual's body.

Excess current

cooks the tissue.

There have been occasions...

where a great amount

of current has been applied...

and the meat will come off

the executee's body like meat

coming off a cooked chicken.

The execution

must be conducted

in two jolts.

In 1/240th part of a second...

the first jolt disrupts

or destroys the individual's

central nervous system.

Current is then applied...

for a time

approaching one minute.

The adrenaline

is being driven out

into the bloodstream.

The second jolt

now seizes the pacemaker

a second time.

There's now no adrenaline left

to restart the pacemaker.

The person is dead.

If the voltage does not exceed

throughout the execution,

the individual's pacemaker

is not permanently seized.

In some 20, 30 minutes later

the individual's heart

restarts itself on its own...

and the person

is now alive again.

They would have to call

all the witnesses back,

strap the vegetable

back into the chair...

and reelectrocute him.

There's no difference

in a life support system

and an execution system.

Uh, the system has to

function flawlessly...

for the time period

that it's operating.

With a life support system,

if it doesn't function,

the person dies.

With an execution system,

if it doesn't

function flawlessly,

the person lives,

but he doesn't live

as a human being.

He lives as an injured,

brain-dead vegetable,

which is probably far worse

than being executed.

[ Film Projector Running ]

[ Film Projector Running ]

My father worked

in the Massachusetts

correctional system.

He was a superintendent

of transportation

for many years,

first at the old state prison

in Charlestown,

and then at the new prison

in Walpole,

which has now since been

renamed Cedar Junction.

As many youngsters do,

I went to work

with my father.

I'd been

accompanying him to work

since I was four years old.

I visited all of the cell areas,

including the death house area.

I was in the same room that

people like Sacco and Vanzetti

were executed in.

I learned a number of things

from the inmates that

normally would be illegal...

but have proved

very useful to me

in my later life,

things like picking locks

and cracking safes and--

I learned all kinds

of strange things

as a youngster.

I came into

the execution field...

from a back-door

standpoint,

because I was very concerned

about the humanitarian aspects

of death by torture,

similar to what happened

in the state of Florida

two years ago...

with Mr.Jesse Tafero,

where they actually

set the man's head on fire.

Once the chair broke in half

in the state of New York,

and the individual

lay writhing on the floor

of the death chamber...

crying for 35 or 40 minutes

while the carpenters

repaired the chair.

They burnt

the transformer up.

Fortunately,

due to the quick thinking

of the prison electrician,

they had some cable,

they ran some wires

over the prison wall...

and tapped into

the outside power line...

without the consent

of the power company, but

there was no objection later.

They had one execution...

where the transformer

caught on fire and blew up,

and it occurred

in such a sequence...

that all it did was knock

the individual unconscious.

He came out of it with

no apparent brain damage,

no problem.

Six months later they repaired

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