25 April 2020 :
Beginning April 15, 2020, two television series — one a new program from Netflix and the other new episodes of a returning series from CNN — will highlight stories of wrongful convictions, including some death-penalty cases.
The new Netflix documentary series, The Innocence Files, will debut on April 15, with its first episode featuring the case of Texas death-row exoneree Alfred DeWayne Brown. The fifth season of CNN’s series, Death Row Stories, will premiere on April 19 with an episode that will tell the story of Ohio death-row prisoner Tyrone Noling, who has maintained his innocence throughout the nearly 30 years he has spent on death row.
The Innocence Files
The Innocence Files will spend nine episodes exploring eight wrongful convictions through the themes of junk science, false eyewitness testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct. It features the work of the Innocence Project, tracing eight stories of people exonerated with the help of the organization. A team of directors, including Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, use the stories to highlight systemic problems that lead to wrongful convictions, as well as the personal cost to the wrongfully convicted prisoners and their families.
The series premiere looks at the prosecutorial misconduct that led to Brown’s wrongful conviction and death sentence in 2005 for a robbery/murder in which a store clerk and responding police officer were shot to death. Brown claimed that phone records would show he was at his girlfriend’s apartment at the time of the murder. Harris County homicide prosecutor Dan Rizzo had phone records corroborating Brown’s story, but withheld them from the defense, then abused grand jury proceedings to jail Brown’s girlfriend until she agreed to implicate Brown. Brown was exonerated in 2015 after the phone records came to light in a box in a homicide detective’s garage.
The series also features an episode on Mississippi death-row exoneree Kennedy Brewer and the discredited bite-mark evidence that contributed to his 1992 wrongful conviction. DNA testing confirmed his innocence in 2001, and he was exonerated in 2008. Despite numerous cases like Brewer’s and a growing body of research showing that bite-mark evidence is unreliable, it is still accepted in all 50 states.
Other stories in the series will illustrate the challenges of eyewitness identification, especially cross-racial identifications, and the dangers of prosecutorial misconduct, which is a leading cause of wrongful death-penalty convictions. The series presents cases involving witness coercion and withholding of evidence.
The Daily Beast said “The Innocence Files lays bare a handful of significant areas in which our judicial apparatus is prone to making mistakes, or to being exploited by unethical players. It’s a series with its heart in the right place, and arguments that are worth hearing—and heeding—in the interest of creating a more just system for all.”
Death Row Stories
The fifth season of Death Row Stories will air on HLN starting on April 19 with a story of Ohio death-row prisoner Tyrone Noling, who has continuously maintained his innocence of the 1990 murders of Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig. Noling’s case has already been the subject of in-depth reporting by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Scene, and Columbus Dispatch. In 2010, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Attorney General Richard Cordray urged prosecutors to allow postconviction DNA testing for Noling and six other prisoners with strong claims of innocence. No physical evidence linked Noling to the Hartigs’ murders, but he was convicted on the basis of testimony from three co-defendants who have since recanted, saying their testimony was coerced. Thirteen years after his trial, prosecutors revealed police notes showing that a witness had identified another man as the perpetrator.
The second episode of Death Row Stories, scheduled to air on April 26, features the case of former Philadelphia death-row prisoner Terry Williams, whose prosecutor withheld evidence that Williams’ murder victim was a sexual predator whose victims included Williams, instructed the state’s lead witness to be silent about the sexual abuse and to testify that the murder had been part of a robbery, and then argued to the jury that the victim was a “kind man” and innocent good Samaritan who had been murdered after offering Williams a ride home.