Based on true events, THE LENA BAKER STORY recounts one African-American womans struggle to rise above the challenges of her life, to face the choices she makes, and to ultimately triumph over her impossible circumstances.
As a young girl in the early 1900s Lena Baker (Tichina Arnold) and her mother (Beverly Todd) make ends meet by picking cotton in the hot southern sun of rural Cuthbert, Georgia. Lena grows up to work as a prostitute during the Roaring Twenties in an attempt to make enough money to head north and start anew. She is arrested before her dream is realized and sentenced to ten months of hard labor. Returning from this grueling experience and reuniting with her mother on the dusty road near their home, it is clear that Lena is changed forever.
Years later, it seems that Lena has finally overcome her inner demons. She has three young children, she no longer drinks, she attends church regularly and helps her mother with their weekly laundry work.
Just when it seems Lena may be able to forget the sorrow of her past, she is called to work for Elliot Arthur (Peter Coyote), a tyrannical white man known in Cuthbert for his angry disposition and drinking. Over time, Lena and Elliot develop a highly-charged relationship, filled with alcohol, cruelty and a troubling need for one another.
Elliots physical and mental abuse continues to escalate. He often kidnaps Lena from her home and imprisons her for weeks, keeping her from her children and mother. One particularly hot and humid night, Lena finally stands up for herself and attempts to break free from his bondage. A struggle ensues and the gun they tussle over accidentally goes off. Elliot Arthur, a white man, is shot by Lena Baker, an African-American woman. She is arrested soon after by the towns sympathetic sheriff (Michael Rooker) who is helpless in the face of social mores of the time.
The trial is swift and a jury of 12 white men, her subpoenaed peers, find Lena guilty of murder in less than six hours. Lena soon receives the devastating news that she has been sentenced to death by electrocution. During the coming months, Lena prepares for her passing with dignity and strength. In the end, she dies confident in the knowledge that God will judge her in a way that her fellow human beings could not.
Lena Baker was the first and only woman to be sentenced to death by the electric chair in the state of Georgia and was executed in 1945. She was pardoned posthumously in 2005.