As riveting as any episode of Law and Order, this Academy Award-winning documentary, which aired as part of HBO's part of its America Undercover series, doesn't need to punch up its presentation of a tragic miscarriage of justice: The facts speak for themselves. In May of 2000, elderly vacationers James and Mary Ann Stephens were having breakfast at a Ramada Inn in Jacksonville, Florida. They were robbed by a young African-American man, who fatally shot Mrs. Stephens at close range. Innocent, 15-year-old Brenton Butler became a convenient scapegoat for law enforcement officials under pressure to make a quick arrest. Even though Butler didn't fit the original age profile, he was arrested and tricked into confessing by Jacksonville detective Michael Glover. Mr. Stephens identified Butler after a face-to-face meeting arranged by the police, but Butler didn't match Stephens's earlier description of his assailant. Public defenders Patrick McGuinness and Ann Finnell, horrified that the defendant had been denied his basic rights, painstakingly debunked the prosecution's theory. McGuinness went over the crime scene with a fine-tooth comb, pointed out the state's lack of forensic evidence and reiterated the fact that Butler's confession was coerced. While picking apart the flaws in the official version of events, Finnell and McGuinness uncover a concerted effort to obfuscate the facts. Even after he clears Butler, McGuinness doesn't rest, finding closure only after he's figured out the identity of the real killer. French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's expose of Southern injustice benefits from the fact that, as a foreigner, he brought a certain detachment to the material. This chronicle of real-life detective work, which unfolds like a mystery yarn, is clinical in approach but devastating in its impact.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: As riveting as any episode of Law and Order, this Academy Award-winning documentary, which aired as part of HBO's part of its America Undercover series, doesn't need to punch up its presentation of a tragic miscarriage of justice: The facts speak for thems… (more)