There’s something about wrongful conviction stories that always draw me in. I can’t stop thinking about these people, most of whom are still behind bars. Fiction can’t do that. No matter how good the story or the writing, you know that it was all made up. For the wrongfully convicted, their stories drag on, and those responsible are seldom held accountable.
There are two documentary series streaming on Netflix that tell one heartbreaking story of injustice after another. I urge you to watch each one. You’ll be thinking about these people long after hearing their stories.
I’ll start with season two of The Confession Tapes. You can read my review of season one and the True East episode on this site. Season two is only four episodes long, but each packs a punch. As the title of this series suggests, each story involves a confession (or false confession). The filmmakers don’t prejudge the merits of any particular case. They lay out the facts and let the viewer decide.
The first episode, Gaslight, tells the story of a man accused of murdering a teenage girl. One of the star witnesses claims to have seen the suspect driving his truck with a woman passenger with jet black hair hunched over in the passenger seat around the time of the girl’s disappearance. The problem is that the girl had blond hair. What the witness saw was a knapsack slung over the passenger seat. That fact does not dissuade the prosecutor or the detectives.
The Joyride episode is one that will keep you up at night. One, because of how the police zeroed in on the wrong suspects, and two because of how the real killers were a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. There is some real detective work that leads to the actual murderers. But the tunnel vision of the lead detective, even after his theory of the case gets blown to pieces, is astonishing.
The Angelika Graswald story I’ve written about before. I still believe that the defense lawyer made a mistake having her take a plea. There is no way the state could have proven their case. It all falls apart on close examination.
The last story, Marching Orders, is one that I’m not sure I’ll ever forget. What the FBI did to this individual is reprehensible. The fact that they held a press conference to tell everyone how they helped prevent a terrorist attack should make everyone outraged. The FBI took an innocent Muslim man and sentenced him to twenty-four-years in prison on the pretense that they were preventing a terrorist attack before it happened. Forget the fact that they did everything in their power to entrap him and get him to make incriminating statements that weren’t a confession to anything. And for them to get in front of cameras to tell everyone what a great job they did pisses me off. I’m glad that these men are now facing the criticism that surely is coming their way. They deserve to take this man’s place. Let them lose their freedom for twenty-four years.
Next up is Exhibit A. This four-episode series tells stories of wrongful convictions that are the result of questionable forensics.
The first episode tells the story of a man convicted based on video forensics. Wait? How can someone be wrongfully convicted when there is video evidence? This case is an example of how detectives can fall into the trap of trying to get the evidence to fit their theory even when the evidence is screaming that they have the wrong man.
If the Blood Spatter episode doesn’t make you outraged, then nothing will. A couple of cold case detectives looking to prove their worth try to solve a cold case involving the murder of a man nearly thirty years prior. They send off the nightgown of the man’s wife to have it forensically examined. The person examining the nightgown uses a high powered microscope to go every square inch of the garment. He concludes that the nightgown is covered in microscopic blood spatter only visible under a microscope. The detectives waste little time arresting the wife and putting her on trial. Later, additional testing reveals that only one small spec tests positive for blood. Whew! Glad they caught that before they went to trial and tried to convict an innocent person. Oh, wait. They didn’t drop the case. Even though their whole theory of the murder was that blood spatter on the nightgown was evidence that the wife was close to her husband when he was shot, and now that evidence no longer exists, they still go through with their cockamamie prosecution. They didn’t even prove that the spec of blood belonged to the husband. And then a scientific review panel doesn’t question the evidence because of that one microscopic spec of blood. What is wrong with these people? Use your common sense. There was ample evidence pointing elsewhere. Why destroy a woman’s life over your disproven hunch?
Next, there is the Cadaver Dog story. I’m not sure of the man with the cadaver dogs is the same man that aided in the Madaleine McCain case, but I did recognize some video from that documentary. The cadaver dog evidence in that case was flawed as well. Should we be putting people into prison when the only evidence against them is the bark of a dog?
The last episode involves touch DNA. Everyone knows that DNA evidence is rock solid, right? Guess again. This story involves politics, money, and the fraudulent use of DNA data. It’s the only story of all the ones covered in this review, that ends better than where it started.