2005 - United States - 95 minutes
Director - Jessica Sanders
Writers - Jessica Sanders and Marc H. Simon
Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.9/10 - Link to IMDb
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars

This is an engrossing documentary about several men who were falsely accused, incarcerated, and subsequently released due to the efforts of the Innocence Project. (Link)

To be falsely accused is a classic theme in literature, but academic theory is brought to shocking reality by this film.

It treads lightly on the atrocities experienced in prison by the men featured, but one can only imagine the years of desperation and torture. One of the men, Nicholas Yarris, (Link) does express his ire at being tortured and held in solitary confinement for year after year only to be finally released after almost twenty-two years of false imprisonment. Yarris has managed to turn his years of distress into a personal cause for justice. (Link)

Each of the men is unique in his suffering, but in common is the injustice of the justice system. The greatest of these is to make each a marked man who cannot escape from a position inflicted by the unwillingness of the system to exonerate his conviction and expunge his record. One is Vincent Moto (Link) who cannot raise the $6,000 required by the state of Pennsylvania to clear his conviction from the records.

Another is the case of Wilton Dedge (Link) who, after serving more than nineteen years, was able to prove that evidence valuable to his conviction was incorrect but still had to languish in prison for another three years while the Florida prosecutor fought irrefutable evidence.

In addition to the information about DNA evidence that has become more readable with the advance of technology, the documentary also deals with the very real fact that eye witness evidence is often extremely inaccurate. This is pointed out in the case of Roland Cotton (Link) who served over ten years having been convicted on unreliable eye witness testimony. The thing that makes Cotton’s case so remarkable is that the victim, Jennifer Thompson, has become an advocate for Cotton and a leader in the cause to expose the fallibility of eye witness identification. In the film, you see the sketch based upon Thompson’s memory and a photograph of the actual rapist. Cotton looks exactly like the sketch but nothing like the real criminal.

Probably the element that struck me the most in the film was the stoicism of these men who have spent the greater part of their lives locked up for something they didn’t do. They seem so calm and devoid of anger. Of course, this might be a technique of the filmmaker who doesn’t show the subjects in their dark and angry moments. One thing that does come through is the seeming lack of joy or peace in the lives of most of the men depicted, but how could it be any different?

Neil Turner
January 19, 2009

After Innocence