Perry Cobb

Perry Cobb spent eighteen years in prison, eight years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

“I’ve been tried more times than anyone in this country for the same offense, for something I never had anything to do with. They had latent fingerprints that weren’t mine, and I’ve never been 6 feet 11 and I’d never been light-skinned. My mother, grandmother, my father, grandfather, family, my children grew up without me. It’s nothing nice about that except for one thing, I was able to come back and spend just a little time with them. But they can’t get me a second back that they took away from me. So that is easy for me to put on paper, but to put what’s in my heart down on that paper, the pain and the hurt, that is what kind of gets you. It’s a mixture of pain and sorrow. It was hate. I stopped hating. I don’t like them, but I don’t hate them, because I hated them so much until that it almost destroyed me and I stopped that.”

Author, singer-songwriter Perry Cobb endured a record five trials and spent nearly nine years on death row as an innocent man. Now, Perry writes prolifically and brings his sense of justice and integrity to his death penalty abolition work, speaking about the tragic failings and racism of the criminal justice system.

Perry credits his survival to fearlessness, strength, and the truth. A trained boxer, others knew he would fight for justice. Perry studied law and encouraged his peers to do the same. stirring inspiration in his fellow inmates. This led those in power to see him as a threat.When we were doing law, the whole death row was quiet, all you could hear was typewriters. That’s when they said I was the most dangerous man.

Speaking truth to power saved Perry’s life. He took the witness stand on his own behalf, well prepared for the state’s attorneys’ tricks. Facts prevailed despite efforts to hide evidence. Although free, he reminds us of all that was taken away by a cruel, unjust system.

“My mother, father, grandfather, my children grew up without me. They can’t give back what they took away.

© 2024 Martin Schoeller
Death Row Exonerees

︎Moving Portraits
︎Short Documentaries

Through partnership with Witness to Innocence, Martin photographed, interviewed, and filmed death row exonerees, recording and sharing their stories of how they were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.* 

I have been living in the US for 25 years and, as a German national raised in the shadow of the Nazi regime, remain appalled by state-sponsored murder. In this series I partnered with Witness to Innocence, the organization founded by activist Sister Helen Prejan and death row exoneree, Ray Krone.  As they fight to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. and to shine a harsh light on the profound, damning flaws in the ways these laws are applied, 189 women and men that were sentenced to die have been exonerated.

I wanted to present viewers with a harrowing, interactive account of the stories of innocent people forced to endure government-sanctioned horror.  These women and men bear dignified witness to the unacceptable costs of a misguided system of laws in desperate need of revision and a prison system that focuses on retaliation and rehabilitation.
– Martin Schoeller

*individual texts courtesy of Witness to Innocence

2020, Death Row Exonerees, Fotografiska, New York, New York, USA
2020, Works, NRW Forum, Berlin, Germany

Selected Press
Sentenced to death, but innocent: These are stories of justice gone wrong, National Geographic, USA
Martin Schoeller: Moving Portraits, Witness to Innocence, USA
Martin Schoeller: Death Row Exonerees, Air Mail Arts Intel, USA
Death Row Exonerees, ArtForum, USA
Martin Schoeller/Death Row Exonerees, Flaunt Magazine, USA
Interview: Martin Schoeller at Fotografiska New York Re-Opening, Musée Magazine, USA
Death Row Exonerees: behind a powerful photo project on injustice, The Guardian, USA
Martin Schoeller: ‘I am trying to show a humanity I think we all share’, TimeOut Shanghai, China
Death Row Exonerees Exhibit Featured in the Guardian, Witness to Innocence, USA