An Update on The Innocent Convicts
Crowdfunding & Grant Propel Production Forward
BY MARK SAXENMEYER
The Reporters Inc. is moving full steam ahead with the production of our wrongful convictions documentary, The Innocent Convicts.
In early October, we wrapped up a month-long crowdfunding campaign via IndieGogo and raised $11,200. After IndieGogo’s fees were subtracted, we ended with about $10,300 in our coffers. Then, in late October, the Minnesota Bar Association Foundation awarded The Reporters Inc. a grant, earmarked specifically for The Innocent Convicts.
And today, November 12th, is “Give to the Max Day,” GiveMn.org’s annual push to help nonprofits raise money for their causes. If you’re interested or able to donate, please check out our page at https://www.givemn.org/organization/Reporters
If you missed any of the three trailers we’ve produced for the documentary, you can find them here:
All three of these trailers focus on the heartbreaking case of Tim Cole, who died in prison after being falsely accused of raping a fellow Texas Tech University student. In December, we return to Texas to conduct additional interviews for this portion of the production. We’ll be sitting down and talking with Tim’s family, the rape victim, the man who actually committed the crime, police officers, prosecutors and judges involved in the case, and others.
At the same time, the documentary aims to include cases throughout the United States, and we’re in the process of determining which additional stories to profile. Since we announced our project (which will air on PBS station nationwide), we’ve been inundated with requests from people everywhere, all sharing details about other horrific wrongful convictions.
We recently interviewed the leaders of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, Heather Ring and Julie Jonas. Later this month we’ll be interviewing Michael Hansen, a Minnesota man who was wrongfully convicted of killing his infant daughter, based mainly on questionable medical expert testimony. He served six years of a 14-year sentence before being exonerated by the Innocence Project.
As Joan Treppa writes this month on www.thereporters.org, the notorious case involving the convictions of six Green Bay, Wisconsin men in the death of a fellow paper mill worker is also on our radar. We also plan to include the case of Audrey Edmunds, a Wisconsin stay-at-home mom who babysat for neighborhood families. Edmunds was accused of killing a child in her care based on “Shaken Baby Syndrome” theories, sentenced to 18 years, and served 12 of those before the Wisconsin Innocence Project stepped in and presented new information casting doubt on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Edmunds’ conviction was overturned.
There are several cases in Illinois we’re also considering. One involves the infamous wrongful conviction case of Rolando Cruz and two other men in the 1983 death of a 10-year-girl in the Chicago suburbs. Cruz spent years on Death Row in a case consumed by law enforcement and criminal justice corruption. We’ve spoken with Cruz and he’s eager to share his story, 30 years after his trial and 20 years after being released and pardoned.
Of course, the Innocence Project can’t, and won’t, take on every alleged wrongful conviction case. Take, for example, the story of Mickael Webb, a California man currently serving time for a rape he insists he didn’t commit. His conviction relied mainly on the claims of the woman in question, a woman Webb says was a prostitute who he refused to have sex with once she told him she wanted money. Court records refer to testimony that the woman had indeed endured “forced penetration” but that no DNA evidence tied Webb to it. There were no witnesses, no additional compelling evidence. Nonetheless, a jury convicted him and he lost on appeal. Webb is one of the many, many people behind bars who can’t seem to tip the scales of justice in their favor. He doesn’t have money or clout that might allow him to do so. But is he truly innocent? Is there ever a way to know for sure? It’s a case we’re considering including in the documentary for these reasons alone.
Then there’s the intriguing Colorado case of Charles Farrar, a man serving 145 years for sexually abusing his step-daughter—a conviction based almost entirely on the testimony of the then-troubled adolescent girl with a long history of telling lies. She recanted her tale of abuse soon after the trial but Farrar can’t get a new one. One judge ruled that the girl’s recantation was unreliable, not her original claims.
And finally, there’s the story of Ricky Jackson, a Cleveland, Ohio man who spent 39 years behind bars, sentenced to death, for a murder he didn’t commit—the nation’s longest period of incarceration by an inmate wrongfully convicted before exoneration. Free for nearly a year now, Jackson has embraced the words and mindset of Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years jailed in South Africa.
After his release in 1990, Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
“No truer statement has ever been spoken,” says Jackson.
Needless to say, there is plenty of material to work with as production on The Innocent Convicts continues. As promised, we plan to include you on the journey, every step of the way. Please don’t hesitate to send us your thoughts, ideas, input, feedback, suggestions, criticisms, critiques, questions, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We welcome it all. And thanks again, once more, as always, for your support.
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