Cover image for Dead run : the untold story of Dennis Stockton and America's only mass escape from death row
Dead run : the untold story of Dennis Stockton and America's only mass escape from death row
Jackson, Joe, 1955-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Times Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 299 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV8658.S76 J33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HV8658.S76 J33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Summers are always stifling in southern Virginia, and they're even hotter on the Mecklenburg Correctional Center's Death Row when Dennis Stockton arrives there in July 1983. Charged with murder for hire, Stockton insisted he was innocent, but his jury sentenced him to die. In prison, he begins keeping a diary and it soon becomes his lifeline, nurturing dreams of freedom and publication as an author. Mecklenburg's officials had always prided themselves on running a secure prison, but that left them vulnerable to an ingenious escape conspiracy. Though indispensable in the plotting, Stockton decides not to run, betting instead on a new trial and exoneration. The escape of the "Mecklenburg Six" is dazzlingly suspenseful, as they take hostages, don guards' uniforms, and, staging a monumental bluff, make history with America's first mass escape from Death Row. Mean-while, Stockton notes it all in his journal. After the escape, a Norfolk newspaper editor, William F. Burke, Jr., writes to the remaining inmates, seeking information on the unprecedented breakout. Stockton's diary becomes the most revealing account, and when excerpts are published, a scandalous portrait of Death Row emerges: bribed guards, marijuana plants, homebrew alcohol, weapon stashes, unlocked cell doors, and jailhouse sex. Overnight, Stockton becomes the most hated man in Virginia's prisons for his exposé. During the next eleven years, he survives plots against his life and endures subhuman conditions. Throughout his ordeal he struggles to find his voice as a writer, while battling to gain a new trial and escape the "monster factory," his name for Death Row. As Stockton's scheduled execution nears, the case against him begins unraveling, leaving readers to ponder the true nature of justice.

Author Notes

Burke and Joe Jackson, a reporter colleague, investigate Stockton's persistent claims of innocence and discover that everything he has asserted checks out, from his version of the closing hours of a lonely country diner to his allegations of a secret prosecution deal with the witness whose testimony convicted him. They uncover a sinister underworld in Stockton's small town and fill in the frame that was hung around his neck. Employing Stockton's writings and their own deep research into the rural South and Death Row, the authors have produced a powerful book on a front-page social issue--wrongful conviction and execution--that reads like the most chilling suspense novel. Yet this is not fiction. Dead Run is a riveting, impeccably sourced prison drama about a condemned man whose fate readers will never forget.

Since 1980, when William F. Burke, Jr. (right), became an editor at The Virginian-Pilot, stories he's edited have received four Pulitzer Prize nominations. During Joe Jackson's tenure with The Virginian-Pilot, stories he reported were nominated for three Pulitzers and resulted in the acquittal of a man wrongly convicted of murder and the recantations of two witnesses whose testimony had sentenced men to death. They live with their families in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Dennis Stockton spent 12 years at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center's death row in southern Virginia, awaiting execution on a murder conviction. While incarcerated, Stockton used writing as an outlet to cope with the senseless violence of prison life. In his diary, he recorded the details of a sensational prison break. Although Stockton helped in the planning, he declined to escape, preferring to take his chances on an appeal of his conviction for a crime he said he never committed. He conveys the power struggles among and between inmates and prison officials, and the corruption of guards that abetted drug dealing and other illegal activities. Stockton's account of prison life, the incredible prison break, and his own eventual walk to execution is riveting. Reporters Jackson and Burke use Stockton's case and his accounts to examine the U.S. criminal justice and prison systems and the grisly practice of execution, even in the face of recent developments, such as DNA testing, that have overturned convictions of several men on death row. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

A career criminal who was in and out of prison from the time he was caught passing bad checks as a teenager, Dennis Stockton was no angel. But, as journalists Jackson and Burke convincingly demonstrate, he was wrongly executed for a murder he didn't commit. In this chilling account drawing on interviews and Stockton's own death row writings (some of which they published in their newspaper, the Virginia Pilot), the authors paint a picture of a prison system as inept as it is corrupt and cruel, and of justice severely perverted. The man who allegedly hired Stockton to kill a North Carolina teenager in 1978 was never prosecuted. And the sole witness, himself a convict, who testified against Stockton was later heard bragging of committing the murder himself. But Virginia, where Stockton was tried, prohibits introducing new evidence more than 21 days after conviction. Stockton also brought trouble on himself with his prison diary and his decision to publish parts of it in the Virginia Pilot, the state's largest newspaper. In the diary, he revealed inside information about the escape of six fellow death row inmates on Memorial Day weekend 1984. Stockton related that underpaid and often corrupt guards were either incompetent or actively assisted the prisoners (all of whom were captured within three weeks). The revelations enraged prison guards and inmates, putting Stockton's life in danger, and embarrassed the state, in all likelihood ending any hopes Stockton might have had for clemency. Burke and Jackson offer a gripping inside look at the life usually hidden behind prison walls and a frightening indictment of the criminal justice system. 25 illus. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dennis Stockton spent much of his time on Death Row keeping a diary recounting not only his own daily activities but those of his fellow inmates and guards. Included in that diary were the details of how he helped six inmates plan a successful escape in 1984 from the "escape-proof" Mecklenburg Correctional Center in Virginia. (Stockton stayed behind to seek a new trial.) The diary is only quoted toward the end of the book, but by then readers will have come to know the other residents of Death Row, and the diary entries will make more sense. The writing is well organized and crisp but filled with the details that make both the inmates and their crimes more real. That many doubted Stockton's guilt makes his execution by lethal injection almost as frightening as the murder he was accused of committing. The authors, both writers for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, published Stockton's writings during his 12 years on Death Row, and their familiarity with the case shines through in this tightly woven volume.ÄChristine A. Moesch, Buffalo & Erie Cty. P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

William Styron
Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. xvii
Cast of Charactersp. xxi
Mapp. xxv
Part I The Great Escape
Chapter 1

p. 3

Chapter 2

p. 14

Chapter 3

p. 39

Chapter 4

p. 68

Chapter 5

p. 84

Chapter 6

p. 113

Cell Block Diagramp. 132
Chapter 7

p. 133

Chapter 7

p. 153

Part II The Retribution
Chapter 9

p. 171

Chapter 10

p. 186

Chapter 11

p. 215

Chapter 12

p. 231

Execution Dayp. 271
Epiloguep. 287
Notesp. 291
Sources and Acknowledgmentsp. 295