Rating **** 1/2
Nineteen-year-old Sean Ellis goes to a Walgreens to buy some pampers. Days later, police charge Ellis and a friend for the murder of a Boston police officer. The police officer, John Mulligan, was shot five times in the face in the same Walgreens parking lot at around the same time that Sean and his friend were there. Both men are eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. This eight-part Netflix docuseries follows Sean through a series of trials and investigations as he tries to prove his innocence.
The murder occurred in 1993. Both Sean and his friend, Terry Patterson, are black. As is the case with most wrongful convictions, there is a long list of errors, questionable police and prosecutor actions, and coerced testimony. Unraveling these mistakes and deliberate fabrications by investigators and the prosecutor is the task of defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio.
Sean’s original defense attorneys do a commendable job, usually not the case in wrongful convictions. It’s only many years later that it becomes apparent that the original investigators framed Sean and Terry to prevent the discovery of their corruption, which also involved detective John Mulligan.
Throughout this eight-episode docuseries, I frequently found myself wanting more information. I wanted to know more about the two guns police found in a field after Sean’s uncle told them a story that implicated Sean. I wanted to know more about Terry Patterson’s case. I wanted to learn more about the timeline. I wanted to know why Rosemary didn’t spend more time with Sean’s girlfriend and his uncle, both who testified against Sean. I wanted to see a ballistics report. I felt that there needed to be more follow-up on the plausible evidence pointing to a specific individual who may have been the actual killer.
Lastly, I wanted to see retribution. Not only was no one held accountable for the twenty-plus years Sean spent in prison, but the Boston district attorney, who dismissed charges against Sean, went out of his way to say that he believed Sean was still guilty. The same is true for the retired Bostin detectives interviewed for the series. They arrogantly dismissed any possibility that they got it wrong. “It was airtight,” one detective claimed, while the filmmakers poked holes in every aspect of the case.
The sad truth is that if not for the work of a few dedicated people, Sean Ellis would have spent the remainder of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.