S8E12: The Devil Made Them Do It: Joe Berlinger’s Quest for Justice
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the US found itself wrapped up in the “Satanic Panic” - a general state of fear revolving around Satanism and satanic ritual, real or imagined. On May 5th, 1993, three 8 year old boys - Steven Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers - were reported missing. Their lifeless bodies were found the following day in a Robin Hood Hills creek, naked and hogtied. Christopher Byers had suffered lacerations, and his genitals had been mutilated. Details of the bizarre and brutal scene in Robin Hood Hills brought Satanic Panic to a fever pitch in the largely conservative Christian city of West Memphis, Arkansas. Coming off their first film success with “Brother’s Keeper,” documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were tapped by HBO documentaries to head down to get the story. Joe Berlinger sits with Jason and recalls his experience of the case, the moments that inspired his fight for criminal justice reform, and the films and events that have helped shape public opinion of wrongful convictions.
S8E11: 132 Years? You Can't Even Live That Long: Messiah Johnson's Fight For His Life
On December 5th, 1997, 2 armed and disguised men robbed a beauty salon and its patrons in Norfolk, Virginia. On December 19th, Messiah Johnson was misidentified as the culprit and arrested. In the absence of any physical evidence and in spite of his corroborated alibi, Messiah Johnson was convicted on 26 counts of armed robbery, abduction, and related gun charges. He was sentenced to 132 years in prison. On this episode of Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom, Messiah Johnson tells Jason about how his life unraveled and his subsequent fight for freedom. Messiah is a graphic designer and still lives in Virginia, as he continues to fight to clear his name. You can find him on Instagram @messiahaladar johnson. If you’d like to show him support, please visit:
S8E10: I Lied My Ass Off for You People: The Incentivized Testimony that Started Gloria Killian's Law Practice Behind Bars
On December 9th, 1981, Stephen DeSantis and Gary Masse, disguised as telephone repair men, gained entry to the suburban home of Sacramento coin collector Ed Davies. They hogtied Ed and his wife Grace, ransacked the house, and came up with 6 suitcases full of silver before murdering the older couple. There had been a string of robberies connected to area coin shops, and Ed Davies was a customer at the coin store where law student Gloria Killian had worked. When an anonymous tip sent police in search of DeSantis and Masse, Joanne Masse named Killian as the mastermind to her husband’s crimes, an assertion that was repeated through the anonymous tip line. However, without sufficient evidence the charges against Killian were dropped. Upon being convicted Gary Masse offered his testimony, naming Killian as the mastermind of his criminal enterprise, in exchange for sentencing leniency and other perks. This deal was concealed from the defense and the jury. In absence of corroborating evidence, Gloria Killian was sentenced to 32 years to life solely upon Masse’s incentivized testimony. Killian spent 17 years in prison until evidence surfaced, exposing the prosecution’s machinations and Masse’s false testimony. In this episode of Wrongful Conviction , Gloria tells Jason her story alongside Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison. Gloria Killian was released in August of 2002 and currently advocates for women in prison. You can support Gloria Killian’s efforts by visiting the Action Committee for Women in Prison at acwip.net. Also, check us and Jason out on instagram @wrongfulconviction and @itsjasonflom for pics and video from this and every episode of Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom.
S8E9: Philadelphia Freedom: The Jimmy Dennis Story
On October 22, 1991, when 17 year old Chedell Williams and a friend went to Fern Rock subway station in North Philadelphia, 2 men approached them and demanded Chedell’s earrings. She refused and ran. One of the men chased her to nearby 10th Street and Nedro Avenue, where he snatched the earrings and shot her in the throat. Her friend was left unharmed. The 2 men joined a 3rd man who was waiting in a 1978 Chevy Malibu. Chedell died at a hospital less than an hour later. The pressure was on the police and prosecutors to solve the crime, when some local “stick-up boys” named 21 year old, burgeoning R&B vocalist Jimmy Dennis as a potential culprit. Hearing of this, Mr. Dennis went to the police to confront the rumors, maintaining that he was on a bus miles away at the time of the murder with eye witnesses to corroborate his claim. Neither the gun nor earrings were ever recovered. No forensic evidence tying Dennis to the crime was ever developed, and evidence and eyewitness accounts that proved his innocence were suppressed. In this emotional interview, we hear the story of a promising musical career curtailed and a 25 year long battle with a wrongful conviction from death row.
S8E8: A Tale of Two Systems: The Story of Kenzi Snider
On March 18, 2001, Jamie Penich—an American exchange student in South Korea—was brutally murdered in her motel room after a night of partying with friends from the program. Her bloodied nude body was found on the floor. She was stomped to death. Her face was covered with a black fleece jacket. Kenzi Snider, a 19 year-old student from Marshall University, in West Virginia, was one of the friends Jamie was with. About a half dozen exchange students had traveled from campus into the city, where they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in a bar filled with locals and US soldiers. Korean police and army investigators were unable to solve this horrific crime. One year later, in February 2002, FBI agents contacted Kenzi out of the blue. She was back in school in West Virginia. They wanted to talk—alone. She met with three agents on three consecutive days for several hours. The sessions were grueling. When it was done, Kenzi had confessed. She murdered her friend, she said, in the context of a drunken sexual encounter. Kenzi was promptly arrested, incarcerated in a local jail for ten months, and extradited to Korea to stand trial. There, she then spent another six months in jail. Then a panel of judges found her not guilty. The prosecutor appealed the verdict but months later an appeals court confirmed: Not guilty. In 2006, five years after the crime, in response to yet another appeal, the Supreme Court of Korea once again affirmed: NOT GUILTY. This was eighteen years ago. Today we know a whole lot more than we did then about false confessions. Kenzi Snider has been fully acquitted in court. Yet her confession haunts her—and leads some people still to question her actual innocence. Jason Flom is joined by Kenzi Snider, renowned psychologist Saul Kassin best known for his groundbreaking work on false confessions, and his student Patty Sanchez. Sanchez is currently studying the effect of podcasts and media influence on the outcome of legal cases.
Based on the files of the lawyers who freed them, Wrongful Conviction features interviews with men and women who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit – some of them had even been sentenced to death.
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