Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The genesis of this Oscar-winning documentary feature was one of the more appalling miscarriages of justice in recent American history. In May of 2000, Mary Ann Stephens, a 65-year-old tourist from Georgia, was shot and killed by a black assailant in Jacksonville, FL. Anxious not to damage their tourist trade, the Jacksonville police rushed out and picked up the first black "suspect" who happened to be available: 15-year-old Brendon Butler, who at the time of his arrest, was en route to a job interview. The grieving husband of of the murder victim, who had glimpsed the killer from a distance, was virtually coerced by the arresting officers into identifying Butler as the guilty party -- and later, thanks to the strong-arm tactics of his interrogators, and without benefit of counsel, the boy confessed to a crime which he did not commit. Brash, chain-smoking public defender Pat McGuinness, sensing that the prosecution's case stank to high heaven, proceeded to mount a courtroom defense for Butler which may well survive the decades as a textbook case of brilliant jurisprudence -- while the trial itself will undoubtedly forever serve as a cautionary example of the perils and pitfalls and prejudice of "swift justice." Assembled by French documentary filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, this 111-minute feature was originally released under the title Un coupable ideal. As Murder on a Sunday Morning, the film was afforded a Los Angeles theatrical showing in September of 2001 to qualify for the Academy Awards; most Americans, however, saw the film when it aired on the HBO cable network on April 2, 2002.
coercion, confession-false, courtroom, evidence, interrogator, murder, police-investigation, profiling [prejudice], public-defender, race/ethnicity, suspect