Filming The Innocent Man
One of my favorite things about being a reporter is that you tell the story, but you’re not in the story. You get to sit back an observe and report. But every now and again you end up getting sucked into the story.
That’s what happened when I became obsessed with two murder cases in Oklahoma. If the reporter in The Innocent Man looks familiar to you, well, that’s because it’s me.
During 2017, I had the good fortune to work on this six-part docu-series for Netflix. It was an incredible experience, and I learned a few things along the way.
First: I can’t really talk to a camera like a normal human without a glass of wine. I am so much better after wine.
Second: It is about a thousand times harder to investigate a story with a camera crew following you. I confess, I lost my shit one afternoon when it took an hour to get the crew rolling. Then the source backed out when they saw the cameras. I have so much respect for the people who do these projects full time.
Finally, I learned that video is incredibly compelling. I felt something while watching the completed episodes of The Innocent Man that I’ll never feel while reading my stories. The music, the visuals and hearing people speak in their own voices: It’s magic. I understand why you could easily start working on documentaries–and never look back.
I hope The Innocent Man moves you as much as it does me. Over the year of traveling back and forth to Ada, Okla., I got to know Tommy Ward and his family, Christie Shephard and her family, and many other folks who have been touched in some way by these cases.
Their stories tug at me. How is this the best our justice system can do?
I hope people will watch the series and that they will care. I hope that folks will demand that we start doing better. I hope people will take pride in having jury duty, and then question everything they hear and see in court. I hope you will think about how we treat our prisoners and ask whether it’s just to have the death penalty in a system that makes mistakes.
Most of all, I hope we can achieve justice for Denice Haraway. I think about her often. I feel like I failed her. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life that I didn’t find her killer before I ran out of time and money.
Maybe, after the documentary airs, someone who knows something will come forward. Maybe some of the folks who were too afraid to talk to us will feel brave. Maybe something, somewhere will shake loose.
I hope you like the show. I hope it matters.
Photos copyright Netflix and are used with permission.
A sad and important story. Thank you for your intense and honest work.
Saturday morning I watched 12 Angry Men. This morning I watched The innocent Man. Last week I read a statement by the ACLU that they are against a system that gives more rights to the accused. Their statement broke my heart. I thought that was why they were founded. And after watching this I know I have work that needs to be done. The system needs to be fixed. If we all do a little a lot can be done.
I loved your part in the Netflix documentary, what is it with the US justice system as it seems so ridiculously unfair. Innocent Man has so many familiar traits with “Making of a Murderer” it’s so uncanny.
The documentary was incredibly compelling. If I have one regret about watching it, it’s that I can’t undo the impact it’s had on me. The victims in Ada, Oklahoma are many. I hope they, as a community, take hold of their city and get rid of law enforcement and prosecutors who are using them to pad their own egos and pockets. I pray these families find truth, justice and peace. I pray that those who wronged these families and community find their way into the jail cells they deserve.