Thursday, April 16, 2009

Witch Hunt, Documentary About Wrongful Conviction Then Exoneration Of Bakersfield Residents

The award-winning documentary Witch Hunt, a story about the arrest, conviction, and later exoneration of dozens of Bakersfield, California, adults for alleged child sex abuse in the mid-1980s, makes its world television premiere April 12 on MSNBC, with a DVD release April 14.

Witch Hunt weaves the larger Bakersfield story through the travails of John Stoll, a construction worker, who while in the midst of a custody battle over his young son was accused of sexually abusing the boy and five other children. Stoll was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison despite glaring problems, among them, a lack of physical evidence, suggestive questioning of the children by authorities, irregularities in the investigation, and overreaching by prosecutors.

Stoll’s conviction was ultimately reversed after three Northern California Innocence Project attorneys and 10 Santa Clara University law students proved, after two years and thousands of borrowed dollars, that the methods used to interview the child witnesses produced false testimony.

After witnessing firsthand the dedicated team and vital services provided by the Innocence Project, which has lost the government funding it once received, directors Dana Nachman and Don Hardy decided to donate a portion of the profits from the sale of the DVD to NCIP.

“We learned a little bit about the epidemic of wrongful convictions in this country, where over two million people are incarcerated,” said Hardy. “If even one percent of those prisoners are innocent, a very low estimate by most experts, that means more than twenty thousand people are looking toward agencies like the Innocence Project for help. Dana and I want to do our part to help them continue to fight for the rights of the wrongly convicted.”

“The film is a stark reminder of what happens when the justice system has no meaningful accountability of prosecutors and law enforcement. And it is a wake-up call for those who think things like this don’t happen to people like us. They do,” said SCU Law Professor and NCIP executive director Kathleen “Cookie” Ridolfi. “These were ordinary Bakersfield families, working people, living peacefully, raising their children, going to work everyday. Then one day, their children are taken, they’re thrown into prison and they’re caught in this hellish, unimaginable nightmare and it goes on for years and years. It can happen to them, it can happen to anyone,” said Ridolfi, who appears in the film along with legal director Linda Starr, supervising attorney Jill Kent, and some of the Santa Clara University students who worked on the case. California Innocence Project attorneys Justin Brooks and Jan Stiglitiz served as co-counsel on the John Stoll case.

The documentary is narrated by Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn, with music by Pearl Jam (whose lead singer, Eddie Vedder, donated the song after viewing an early version of the film).

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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