When: Thu., Sept. 23, 7 p.m. 2010
DNA evidence in courtrooms has become a commonplace, but it's only been in widespread use for the last 20 years or so. It was a relatively new forensic tool when attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld started the Innocence Project in 1992, looking for cases in which new DNA evidence might overturn wrongful convictions. As it turned out, their work didn't just free the innocent; the unassailable proof of DNA testing shone a light on so much shoddy police work and false testimony, so many forced confessions and mistaken identifications, that it exposed deep-rooted, systemic defects in the justice system.
After Innocence shows the enormous human cost of our broken legal system by following seven men the Innocence Project freed. Some had spent decades behind bars, like Nick Yarris, who served nearly 22 years in solitary confinement, on death row, for a murder he didn't commit. Much shorter spells of solitary have been known to cause serious mental health problems, so when Yarris says, "I'm one of the strongest human beings ever created. I know that now," his claim is chillingly believable.
In 2008, Yarris received a substantial settlement from Delaware County and now lives with his wife and daughter near London, where he campaigns against the death penalty around the world. But not all exonerees have fared so well. After Innocence follows others who have struggled just to live normal lives, dogged by felony convictions still on their records and haunted by the psychic damage caused by long stretches in prison.
After Innocence is a tour de force of documentary filmmaking and editing, and it won awards at Sundance and Full Frame in 2005. At the time, its opening titles stated that "over 150 people have been exonerated and freed by DNA evidence after spending decades in prison for crimes they did not commit." A check of the Innocence Project's website puts the current figure at 258 and counting, which is both cheering and sobering, as their successes can only represent a small fraction of the need.
The free screening starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion featuring recent exoneree Shawn Massey and Professor Theresa Newman of Duke Law School's Wrongful Convictions Clinic. —Marc Maximov