The filmmakers behind the award-winning documentary Scenes of a Crime screened the film and took questions in the McCormick Tribune Center Wednesday evening.
Scenes of a Crime "explores a nearly 10-hour interrogation that culminates in a disputed confession,” according to the film's website. Directors Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh were brought to campus by the Medill Justice Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
“The film seems to have inspired people to take a strong look at the case,” Babcock said. “By making the film, it’s created something concrete and specific that people can point at and say, ‘have your opinion, but look at this first.’”
The documentary centers on the case of Adrian Thomas, who confessed during a lengthy interrogation to slamming his four-month-old son on a bed in September 2008. The baby, unresponsive and feverish, was hospitalized a few days later and died. Despite scientific evidence that an infection may have been the cause of death, Thomas was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Troy, N.Y. police taped the entire interrogation, and Babcock and Hadaegh took advantage of this. They combined police interrogation footage with interviews and excerpts from a police training video to show the techniques used to lead Thomas to the confession. Thomas said he was coerced.
“They did an amazing job of creating stress to the viewer,” SESP senior Kiley Naas said. “That said, I do think it was an objective story.”
The detectives assigned to the case also appear in the film to defend their methods.
“We were interested in their side,” Hadaegh said. “By the time we reached them, they had won the case. They felt really good about themselves and they felt justified to go as far as they had gone.”
Hadaegh also discussed their decision to include only a few minutes of commentary directly from Thomas. His interview, with his prison jumpsuit difficult to miss, appeared at the conclusion of the film.
“We like that narrative structure of beat by beat,” she said. “First you see the point of view of the police, and there’s the middle part with court processes going on. It was a creative decision we wanted to make.”
Thomas’s fight is not over. Although he lost his first round of appeals, his case was recently accepted by the New York Supreme Court. And Scenes of a Crime has helped.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve come to assist the case who might not otherwise have done so were it not for the exposure the film has given it,” Babcock said.
“Issues of wrongful convictions and false confessions are not the glamorous police chases or justice stories that we’ve grown up seeing on TV,” Naas said. “This isn’t a court TV story. It’s really a counter-narrative to that.”