The Story


Following a 1948 crime spree by the “Red Light Bandit” that paralyzed Los Angeles with fear, police arrested Caryl Chessman and charged him with abducting and raping two women. Chessman was convicted of kidnapping with bodily harm, a capital offense at the time, and sent to San Quentin Prison to await his turn in the gas chamber.


But Chessman fought for his life. From his cell on Death Row, he wrote four books — three of which were smuggled out of prison — and became an international celebrity. Proceeds from his writings fueled 12 years of legal challenges in state and federal courts. But by May 1960, Chessman appeared to be out of options. Only one man could save him: Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, the governor of California.


CHESSMAN, a new play by Joseph Rodota, tells the story of Chessman’s final months on Death Row and the difficult decisions facing Brown — including whether to grant clemency to the most famous Death Row prisoner in the world.