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The Exonerated

Lee Tergesen appeared in an off-Broadway and a TV production of "The Exonerated."

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 production.)

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 well."

Movie Gallery
Click here
(28 images)

Video Clips
Lee scene
in The Exonerated

Lee interview
From Court TV

Related Links


Available on DVD

Court TV site
for The Exonerated

The Culture Project's theater site for 
The Exonerated

NY Daily News review

San Diego Times-Union review

Listening to the Exonerated:
A review of the play that gives a good account of Walter Rhodes' role in Sunny Jacobs' life.

Bob Balaban on IMDb