Lee Tergesen appeared in an off-Broadway and a TV production of
The story dramatizes the cases of five
men and a woman who had been sentenced to death for crimes they did
not commit. The staging is simple in both the play and the teleplay.
The cases are interwoven, with actors telling the former Death Row
inmates' stories using accounts found in letters, court transcripts
and other official documents.
In addition to the six lead actors, figures central to the story
also appear to dramatize key portions of each case.
Lee played Walter Rhodes in the Court TV production of "The
Exonerated," which premiered Jan. 27, 2005. It was released
on DVD on March 7, 2006.
Lee's character is
featured in the story line of Sunny Jacobs, played by Susan Sarandon.
He has about 5 minutes of total screen time.
Sunny gets entangled with Rhodes when her common-law husband, Jesse (Bobby
Cannavale), attempts one more "big deal" before settling
down. Car troubles leave the couple stuck in Florida and they wind
up staying with Rhodes. One night, he is giving them a ride and they
are approached by police officers at a rest stop. Rhodes, a parole
violator, shoots two officers and takes off with Sunny and Jesse.
They are caught after a high-speed chase.
In a scene after their arrest, Lee appears, dramatizing Rhodes as
he is questioned by police. Rhodes was a career criminal who knew
how to manipulate the legal system, and the calm subtlety of Lee's performance
reflects how the police would have believed this man. Rhodes agreed
to a plea bargain and testified against Sunny and Jesse, who were
found guilty and sentenced to death.
Lee later is seen in a tight close-up, matter-of-factly reciting a letter
Rhodes wrote recanting his testimony and stating his guilt in the murders.
Rhodes wrote the letter in 1979, but Sunny was not released until
1992, and Jesse was executed in 1990.
Lee was interviewed about his role in "The Exonerated."
Click the image above for a video clip on the Court TV site.
A Los Angeles Times review Jan. 27, 2005, noted:
Director Bob Balaban wisely retains the
minimalist spirit of the stage version, which he also directed.
... The actors, backed by an excellent supporting cast led by
Lee Tergesen, economically recount the stories with just the
right amount of emotion and flair. The flames of bitterness and
rage are kept stirring just below the surface.
Lee Tergesen first became involved with "The
Exonerated" while it was running as a play in New York City.
"Bob Balaban directed an episode of Oz ["Great
Men"] and asked me to do it, and when I read it I thought it was really
moving," Lee told LeeTergesen.com.
"The Exonerated" was staged at The Culture Project at
the 45 Bleecker Theatre. Lee played the role of Kerry Max Cook for a
few performances -- Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2003, and again for about a week
later that year. (The actor Aidan Quinn plays Cook in the Court TV
Cook's experiences in prison have eerie parallels to Tobias
Beecher, as described by Anne, who saw one of Lee's performances:
"There was one part where he talked about
being raped in prison and having other inmates carve a tattoo into
his ass. And then the narrator made a reference to Job, like Beecher
did in season four of Oz.
"There was one scene where Lee talked about Cook’s brother
and how he turned to drinking and eventually got killed in a bar
fight. It was very moving and Lee had me near tears. There was
another really sweet scene with Cook’s wife, whom he married after
he was exonerated. Lee played the adoring husband quite
convincingly. I was really impressed with his range. He had to go
through so many emotions and he did them all so amazingly