KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City criminal defense attorney and private investigator are featured in a one of Netflix’s latest documentaries.
"The Innocent Man" is a six-part documentary that tells the story of two murders in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, in the 1980s and brings into question the criminal justice system in the United States. It's based on John Grisham's only non-fiction book published in 2006.
“The ability of the police or prosecutor to turn someone’s life upside down is starkly, searingly demonstrated in the Netflix series," said Cheryl Pilate, a criminal defense attorney featured in the film.
Four men were convicted -- two in each murder -- but two of the men were later exonerated in one of the murders due to DNA evidence.
Pilate and Dan Clark, a private investigator, worked with the Innocence Project on the civil lawsuit for the exonerated men and found something even more compelling.
“It was a case that took some patience, diligence, persistence to unravel,” Pilate said.
The team discovered hundreds of pages of exculpatory evidence that was never turned over to the defense.
“Once the prosecutor gets that evidence, they have an obligation under the due process clause of the Constitution to provide it to the defense team, and of course none of that happened,” Pilate said. “What we found was a pattern of time and again, evidence pointing away from the perpetrator police were focusing on and pointing at other characters.”
The series essentially “pulls back the curtain” on the criminal justice system, one Pilate and Clark believe is the “most unchecked power in our democracy.”
“A lot of these cases, you can put yourself almost in the situation where that happened,” Clark said. “I think, almost anybody, if the police want to get you, they’ll get you.”
“It’s shocking for people to see how badly the justice system can misfire or go off track and the search for truth can really get derailed,” Pilate added.
She said the documentary shouldn’t be viewed just as entertainment, but as a learning opportunity.
“These are very serious things and they teach a lot,” Pilate said. “It’s drama delivered with a very serious lesson.”