TWO Bournemouth filmmakers have witnessed the grim reality of a death row execution.

Claudia Riccio and Natalie Wilkinson spent more than a year working on the Death Row Dates programmes that follow British women who are romantically involved with condemned inmates in the USA.

The team from Athena Films, which was also behind the long-running Monkey Life series that followed goings-on at Dorset’s Monkey World, found two British women – Sandie from Somerset and Michaela from Essex – who had been writing to prisoners for years and had become involved with them.

Sandie’s case was especially hard-hitting as her fiancée, Reginald Blanton – the second death row inmate she had been in a relationship with – maintained his innocence to the end.

The programme finishes with his execution and the touching moment where she is allowed to see his body – the first time she has physical contact with him.

Natalie said: “I don’t think we will ever experience anything like that again. Our responsibility was to tell it exactly as it happened, but standing outside of the prison while the execution was happening any human being would find difficult.

“It feels like it’s something out of a film, that’s the best way to describe it.”

The project came about when the Crime and Investigation Network asked Athena to come up with ideas for programmes focused on women.

Claudia said: “Women are always analysed, so we said let’s let them tell their story and let the audience make their minds up.”

As well as exploring what compels women in the UK to get involved with death row prisoners, the documentary also looks at the American legal system.

In Reg’s case particularly, the courts rejected appeal after appeal, while Michaela works tirelessly with lawyers to have her partner Jody Miles’ sentence reduced.

Natalie said: “Things aren’t quite as they seem. In Reginald’s case there was no evidence against him. They just didn’t go along the process.

“You get state-appointed lawyers, but they’re working on all sorts of cases and don’t have the resources to investigate anything.”

Claudia said there was still racism involved and that a black man who killed a white man would always end up on death row, but the reverse was not always true.

She added: “If you’re on death row in Texas you’re not coming out. There’s a part of you that believes he will get the stay, but deep down you know it’s not going to happen.”

The programmes explore how both women came to be in touch with inmates and why they put themselves through it.

Claudia said: “People think these women are mad and all want to get exposure, but trying to find women for this programme was the biggest challenge we’ve ever had. These women don’t want publicity and face a lot of abuse.

“It took us a fair few months to befriend these women and gain their trust.”

Natalie added: “With Sandie it’s her entire life. She was ill as a child (with leukaemia) and felt like she was on death row herself. She doesn’t have a bad bone in her body, she’s an absolute sweetheart.

“She genuinely felt she could get closer to somebody in letters and poetry than someone who lived in the same town as her.”

The documentaries have led the filmmakers into another prison film, this time about people who have been exonerated. The project is currently in the research phase.

  • Death Row Dates airs on the Crime and Investigation Network available on satellite and cable TV, at 9pm on June 19 and 20.