Doing Justice to True Crime

Death Row Stories explores the fallibility of the ultimate criminal penalty, capital punishment. Told by current and former death row inmates, each episode of Death Row Stories seeks to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case and poses tough questions about the U.S. capital punishment system. Sundays at 8pm, ET/PT on HLN.  My episode “Body of Evidence” premieres June 30.

I directed two episodes of the series for Jigsaw Productions. This was my first foray into the true crime genre, which I’ve been following as a growing phenomenon over the past few years.  Studies show that women consume the most media about true crime.  There are many theories about why: whether it’s escapism or it’s a way to interact with our worst fears, many people are looking for reasons to why bad things happen. Death Row Stories premiered in 2014, and has since been at the forefront of true crime’s popularity exploring capital punishment in a way that’s more palatable for people who might not think they’re interested in social justice issues.

On the set of “Death Row Stories” for CNN.

As society evolves and culture shifts, so too do our laws. For example, in 2002 the execution of people with intellectual disabilities was ruled unconstitutional. In 2005, the execution of minors under the ago of 18 was prohibited.  In both cases the Supreme Court referred to “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” to determine which punishments are so disproportionate as to be cruel and unusual. Just last month, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty.

Death Row Stories examines the deals and decisions that prosecutors and defense attorneys make on behalf of their clients as the law changes over time.  Often those decisions are based on resources which are tied to geography, experience, and technology.

Curtis Davis, a criminal justice activist, explained it to me like this:

“There are 2.3 million people that are incarcerated in the United States right now. If prosecutors get it right 99% of the time, that means that there are 23,000 wrongfully convicted people in the United States. If they get it right just 90% of the time, that’s almost a quarter of a million people that deserve to be free.”

My team strove to tell balanced, fact-based stories that do not exploit the victim. I had to ask people about the worst day of their lives and to trust me to tell their story with respect and honesty.  That manifested in a lot of research, a lot of phone calls, and a lot of conversations with my colleagues about the significance and the approach to crafting this series.

Death Row Stories has six members of New York Women in Film and Television working on the latest episodes! They share their insights from working on the series which you can read about HERE in Honeysuckle Magazine and HERE on the NYWIFT blog.

Also, special thanks to my sister-friend and colleague Bari Pearlman who introduced me to the genre with our NYWIFT True Crime panel in 2017.  I’m so glad we got to work on this series together!

  1. Betty said:

    Well done

    • BusyK said:

      Thanks! It premieres tonight at 8 on HLN!

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