Paris Carriger spent 20 years of his life on death row in
Arizona, convicted of armed robbery and murder.
But within 48 hours of his scheduled execution, a federal
circuit court granted Carriger’s appeal and he was freed.
Law and psychology Prof. Phoebe Ellsworth, a friend and
supporter of Carriger, told his story yesterday to the University
community. In a lecture titled, “The Story of Paris
Carriger,” a brown bag luncheon sponsored by the Prisoner
Creative Arts Program, she explained to the audience her
relationship with Carriger.
The lecture is part of a series of events sponsored by PCAP
during March. PCAP is a University organization that allows prison
inmates to express themselves artistically through workshops led by
During his time on death row, Carriger contacted Ellsworth, who
specifically studies attitudes toward the death penalty.
“Prisoners often write to me. Usually the correspondence
ends quickly,” Ellsworth said.
In his earlier letters, Carriger proposed a study in which he
would contact inmates on death row for Ellsworth to use in her
research. The study fell through, but correspondence between the
Ellsworth said in his fifth or sixth letter, Carriger began to
tell his story and explain why he was sentenced to death.
Carriger, now in his late 50s, was institutionalized for much of
his life, beginning at age 11. In his mid- 30s, his friend Robert
Dunbar turned him in for robbing a jewelry store and killing the
Eventually, Carriger was convicted and given the death penalty.
Due to poor representation, the jury was never aware that Dunbar,
the state’s star witness, had a reputation of committing
crimes and lying to cover himself.
In 1987, Dunbar was back in prison and believed to be near
death. He confessed to a judge that he had lied about Carriger, but
the judge disregarded him. Six months later, Dunbar found out he
was not dying, and retracted his story.
With several appeals turned down and Carriger’s December
1995 execution date approaching, Ellsworth traveled to Arizona to
meet him for the first time.
Along with a psychiatrist, Ellsworth spoke on behalf of Carriger
at his clemency hearing, in which the court sustained the execution
one day before it was scheduled, and said it must be re-tried on
the grounds of poor representation by the state and likelihood of
Carriger was offered a deal — if he pled guilty to
second-degree murder, he would be set free based on time
Carriger accepted the deal and was freed. Shortly after, he
moved to Oklahoma to live with a half sister.
“What’s important about him is that he managed to
survive and in fact improve himself considerably while on death
row,” Ellsworth said.
While he was on death row, Carriger painted, read and wrote
extensively. Much like prisoners involved in the PCAP program,
which sponsored the event, Carriger used art to express himself
creatively. “He did, in fact, use art as a way to stay
sane,” Ellsworth said.
She continued by commenting on the psychological impact of
prison. “There are things he will never be able to do,”
Joe Lake, a Law School student who organized the event, said he
opposes the death penalty. “Many people don’t
understand the implications that the death penalty has on real
people,” Lake said. “The punishment goes beyond what
He also felt Ellsworth’s lecture tried to emphasize that
point When asked about the significance of the PCAP events, Lake
said, “Putting a human face on the prison system is a major
goal of PCAP.”
An October 2003 Gallup Poll reported that more than half of
citizens in the United States support the death penalty, and when
those polled were given the option of the death penalty and life
without parole, 53 percent still supported it.
Law student Omario Kanji attended the lecture for several
reasons. “I wanted to hear how someone escapes the death
penalty and I wanted to see what role Professor Ellsworth had and
why she cared,” Kanji said. Although Kanji supports the death
penalty, he said he admired the way Ellsworth assisted Carriger.
Even if they are guilty … I think they still deserve dignity
while they’re around,” Kanji said.
PCAP-sponsored events will continue throughout the week, ending