A MURDER IN THE PARK (2015, doc)


a murder in the park Greetings again from the darkness. The concept of “the scales of justice” refers to what is right and just. It’s a lofty and worthy goal, and one that we U.S. citizens grow up learning is the foundation of our legal system.  Sometimes, however, the wheels fall off and the system gets off-track. Co-directors Shawn Rech and Brandon Kinder explore one such quite infamous case.

Here’s a quick synopsis: Cops arrest suspect for a double murder (1982). Suspect found guilty and sentenced to death (1983). Just prior to execution, additional information is submitted and the suspect is freed (1999). Another suspect is charged, found guilty and sent to prison. Fifteen years later, charges against the second man are dropped and he is released from prison. Evidence points to original suspect, who has been pardoned and cannot be re-tried.

The above phrase “additional information” is the key to the film. Northwestern University Professor David Protess and a group of his journalism students, working under the auspice of the “Innocence Project”, set out to cast doubt on the guilt of Anthony Porter – the prisoner just days from execution. The students’ work with Private Investigator Paul Ciolini yields contradictory witnesses and a confession from another man, Alstory Simon. The result of their findings gets Porter released and turns him and themselves into media stars, while also leading to the state of Illinois banning the death penalty.

The film is exceedingly well documented and researched, and provides interviews from detectives, lawyers and Mr. Simon, among others. It’s a procedural documentary that questions the very procedures of the justice system … shooting holes and raising red flags on the steps and a multitude of people involved with the cases over the years. Unfortunately, we don’t get any account directly from Professor Protess (since released by Northwestern), but that’s likely due to the inexcusably shoddy work from his group and his endless grandstanding since getting Porter released.

We all know there are truth-minded journalists, but it’s quite frightening when those on the other end of the spectrum can so easily gain power and influence … especially when teamed up with a less-than-scrupulous private investigator who proudly spouts that the rules don’t apply to him.

This is a very interesting and detailed look at different personality types, legal procedures, media influence and the role of truth and justice. The film begins with a very unusual disclaimer stating the film studio “does not guarantee the accuracy of the content”. The name of the studio? Whole Truth Films.

watch the trailer:

 

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