I’m usually not as interested in whole (television) series for important content as films, because a viewer has to commit so much time to one topic.
Nevertheless, I see that Andrew Jenks, who has directed at least three of his own documentary films, including “Dream / Killer” about the wrongful conviction of Ryan Ferguson , has worked as executive producer for the new Amazon series on the issue, “Unlocking the Truth”, with episodes directed by Adam Kassen.
In fact, the series stars Ryan Ferguson and Eva Nagao as journalists investigating other wrongful conviction cases.
I watched the first two episodes yesterday ($2.99 each on Amazon).
The pilot, “Gates of Hell”, starts with Ryan’s account of his own sudden arrest while driving from college in Kansas City in March 2004. A high school companion had “dreamed” that he and Ryan had committed a murder while drunk in Columbia, MO. The episode shows Ryan being interrogated by police, who have a political motivation to get a conviction even with no physical evidence. The episode then breaking recounts his father’s and family’s efforts to get the conviction overturned.
Ferguson says, this can happen to anybody. I recall that about 15 years ago ABC 20/20 presented another case in Illinois about murder during sleepwalking recalled by a dream.
The episode then moves to another case in Missouri, that of Michael Politte, convicted for murdering his mother when he was 14 in December 1998.
In reviewing a series like this, I probably don’t want to get into “speculation” as to other suspects myself (as no one else has been convicted), but MTV goes into an alternate theory here which is covered in the video.
The second episode “Ain’t No Change in the House of Pain” continues the Politte case and introduces the 1995 beating of Jill Marker in Winston-Salem NC, leaving her in a coma, and severely disabled even today, with defendant Kalvin Michael Smith, as explained on MTV here.
Many of the scenes show Ryan and Eva interviewing other witnesses. It’s odd to see a “television’ series shot in 2.35:1.
It’s great to see Ryan (his fitness site, which should please “Blogtyrant”) become a journalist (like Clark Kent) after ten years in prison, years taken away from him by force.
Ryan’s story has also been covered on NBC Dateline. The “Innocence Project” has produced some important films through CourtTV, such as “The Exonerated“.
Since I discontinued use of Blogger Jan 3. three reviews of Jenks’s films there are no longer available. I’ll summarize quickly.
“Dream/Killer” (2015) presents the wrongful conviction of Ryan Ferguson, who was convicted in Missouri of a murder of a sports editor based on the testimony of someone whose “evidence” was based on a dream. That concept has occurred in a 20-20 episode in the past. The Innocence Project gives some details here. Ferguson speaks to the camera in the film, which is said to have given a black eye to careless or opportunistic prosecution. The film is on Netflix now.
(Feb, 4, 2022: I found these additional notes from a review on Blogger, Movie reviews, Jan. 22, 2016, on an account I used to run):
“Dream/Killer” (2015), a documentary by Andrew Jenks, takes on the issue of wrongful convictions, specifically of Ryan Ferguson, now 31, who spent ten years in prison for a murder he did not commit after being named by an acquaintance, Charles Erickson, as a co-accomplice in the attack on a Columbia, MO sports reporter Kent Heitholt on Halloween Night, 2001. I’ve covered the case in two other posts, on the TV blog Nov. 18, 2013 (a coverage of an NBC Dateline episode, in connection with the Innocence Project) and the Issues Blog, Nov. 14, 2013.
The case is bizarre because Erickson, who did not remember the incident and had been out drinking (underage) and using drugs, and going to parties, accompanied by Ferguson and others, that night. Apparently the bars and parties were at some distance from where the murder occurred.
Nevertheless, Erickson had some “lucid dreams” and believed he and Ferguson had committed the acts. He contacted police, who, with prosecutors, manipulated Erickson into a confession and plea deal to testify against Ferguson.
Ferguson maintains he was never even at the scene (was 17 at the time) had lived normally until 2003, giving the murder almost no thought until the arrest came out of the blue.
ABC 20-20 has reported on somewhat similar case in Illinois where a conviction was obtained based on a dream.
There was no physical evidence connecting Ferguson with the crime, and the “eyewitness” testimony used for the conviction was flimsy and later retracted, as the film shows. The prosecution made some “Brady violations” and withheld information from the defense.
The film focuses on the persistence of Ryan’s father, Bill, to will his freedom. In time, Bill would hire attorney Kathleen Zellner, who worked pro bono on the case. A first “habeus corpus” appeal did not work, as the system had to protect itself, but in 2013 the Appellate court in Kansas City vacated the conviction. Zellner had to use unusual skill and cunning in handling the fact pattern to prevail. It also took a huge public relations campaign, volunteers, and billboard ads to put political pressure on the system and expose it. Was the win on final appeal just based on the law? Or “solidarity”? It’s disturbing.
The film shows a lot of court footage (I’m surprised recording and public use was allowed), both from the original trial (in smaller aspect) and even police interrogation footage, as well as later appeals footage, with many interviews of both Bill and Zellner as well as one female witness.
There are YouTube videos about efforts to free Charles Erickson, who would also appear to be wrongfully convicted.
The film also shows how Bill and his wife Leslie traveled to northern Europe, Africa, and Australia and used their street smarts to pay their way with odd jobs before coming back to Missouri and having their family. Bill has a close bond with his children and Ryan grew up to be very athletic.
The director, Andrew Jenks, appeared with Ryan on the Meredith Vieira Show on January 21, 2016. Jenks said that this kind of set up could happen to almost anyone (as does Zellner near the end of the film).
The official site for the film is here (Cinedigm). I rented it for $4.99 HD from Amazon and watched it the morning of the Blizzard of 2016, as everything started shutting down. The film was an official selection at Tribeca in 2015.
The idea that a fictitious narrative (as of a dream) can defame someone and even put someone in criminal peril has been considered on my main blog under the “implicit content label”. Self-libel in fiction is possible and can even be legally dangerous.
“It’s Not Over” (2014) looks at the lives of three young adults affected by HIV and AIDS. In the US midwest, Paige was born with the infection incurred by her mother. In India, Sarang is a theater director and gay rights activist, demonstrating that modern protease inhibitors control the disease and enable normal life (and may provide clues as for more drugs to create coronavirus early). In South Africa, Lucky teaches in a country with a large percentage of people infected. In Africa, AIDS was much more a heterosexual disease when it appeared in the 1980s.
“Andrew Jenks, Room 335” (2008) is an example of “participatory documentary”. Jenks lives in a retirement home to experience the social climate of people dealing with infirmity and old age — when he was 19. I saw this film wile living with my mother, about two years before she passed away in a difficult time.
(Originally written and posted by me at various times from 2014-2019 on now closed sites; reposted here Thursday May 5, 2022 at 2 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)