Netflix covers every aspect of human life in series after series for us to both learn from and be entertained by year after year. They hit the mark every time, careful to touch upon the human element of a story, while also being sure to explain how, no matter the issue, that guilt or innocence and right or wrong, in fact, all angles of a subject are adequately covered. Alex Gibney, the producer of past Netflix hits such as ‘The Family,’ ‘Citizen K’ and ‘Dirty Money,’ is one of the dream team of directors involved with this, their latest project, out today, which is called ‘The Innocence Files.’
This documentary is about a nonprofit organization called the Innocence Project founded by public defenders Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, who became very angry at our flawed justice system. The goal of those within the Innocence Network is to take on the cases where an innocent person has been found guilty of a crime they couldn’t possibly have committed and work steadily until they overturn their criminal conviction. This is usually done by using DNA evidence. Neufeld and Scheck started their organization in 1992, knowing that DNA would be what helps them solve some of the wrongful convictions. By 2000, they were receiving a few thousand letters every year from people asking for their help.
Being thought of as the ‘Court of Last Resort,’ the Innocence Project’s team of attorneys do what they can to help the cases they believe they’ll win. In the first episode, we see a room that has boxes and boxes full of these letters, and it’s shocking to hear that they can only get to one percent of the cases. To set the tone, pieces of letters are quietly read while we see video of bulging boxes, making us aware of how many situations there are where people need their help, yet will never see the inside of a courthouse. There simply isn’t enough time and not enough attorneys. It’s explained how they go through the letters and separate them into specific categories to make the decision of which to take on.
It’s hard to contemplate the fact that so little of the people behind the pieces of mail will never have these caring individuals get a chance to prove their innocence… especially when considering a lot of these souls have been sitting in a 9×6 cell for decades and may even be facing death. What we go on to see is how broken our justice system actually is.
This nine-episode series is broken up into three fascinating parts. Each part delves into a particular part of the system, such as evidence, that needs to be repaired in this country, as it seems the last thing being achieved or even aimed for is justice.
In the first episode, we’re in Mississippi for ‘The Evidence: Indeed, and Without a Doubt.’ This section is directed by Academy Award® winner, Roger Ross Williams. The area of the country this particular story is centered around has a history of extreme racism, which still existed at the time of this case. Little Courtney was abducted and one man, Levon Brooks, was zeroed in on as the perpetrator of the crime. Once that happened, the prosecution, using mostly bite mark evidence, made sure all the evidence fit and Brooks was thrown into prison for life. It didn’t matter that he had witnesses as to his whereabouts. He fit the profile, a five-year-old fingered him as the guilty party, and the smooth-talking D.A. worked his magic on the jury saying lines like, ‘…while we slept, a silent evil cloaked in the shape of a man, came into the house.’ Those kinds of dramatics in court impressed the jury, and off to prison, Mr. Brooks went.
How this all comes about and hearing the legal ‘experts’ used in the cases will infuriate you and have you screaming at your screen. Primarily when another child is found dead in the same manner, and no one ever connects the two crimes. The same people who found Brooks guilty, later find Kennedy Brewer guilty of virtually the same crime without comparing the two. Then, the work of forensic odontologist, Michael West, who seems to be trying his best to put people away, guilty or not, is examined by his hero, Dr. Richard Souviron.
Souviron brought bite mark analysis into the courtroom by using it against Ted Bundy. After examining the work of Dr. West, Dr. Souviron announces that West is, ‘… 110% wrong.’ This doesn’t go over very well, and the real Michael West comes out, which will scare you. What happens to poor Kennedy Brewer will scare you, too. Luckily, he hears of the work of the Innocence Project and springs into action, writing them about his situation.
I don’t want to go any further into the details about this show. There are nine episodes, all worthy of your examination. This series is, without a doubt, the one that should be sitting at the top of your queue today. You’ll be enraged by what you see, feel elated by what you witness, you’ll be appalled and also enlightened as you engage in this remarkable new miniseries. Enjoy!
For more information go to www.netflix.com/TheInnocenceFiles.
The Innocence Files Netflix
Directors: Liz Garbus, Alex Gibney, Roger Ross Williams, Jed Rothstein, Andy Grieve, Sarah Dowland
Consulting Executives: Innocence Project: Peter Neufeld, Barry Scheck
Subjects: Chester Hollman III, Kenneth Wyniemko, Alfred Dewayne Brown, Thomas Haynesworth, Franky Carrillo, Levon Brooks, Kennedy Brewer, Keith Harward