Executive Producers Viola Davis and Julius Tennon call attention to a light that has been itching to shine with the premiere of ‘The Last Defense’ at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The Last Defense takes an intimate examination of the severely flawed American Judicial System and the remarkably high rate of exonerated death row cases by exploring the sentences of Darlie Routier and Julius Jones in the seven-episode documentary series.
“We incarcerate more people than anybody in the world. The United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population, and over 25% of the world’s prison population,” said Vanessa Potkin of Lincoln Square Productions.
This means that the United States alone has roughly 2.3 million people in prison right now.
According to Potkin, there are about 2,000 people currently on death row in the U.S., and recent studies have shown that 4% of those on death row are actually innocent.
“When you’re facing an execution, and that execution is carried out, and we later find out that you’re innocent… there’s no undoing that wrongful conviction,” added Potkin.
“It’s not a new light. It’s just a light,” said executive producer and esteemed Academy-Award winning actor Viola Davis. “A light where things have always been eschewed, it’s just when we choose to see it.”
We’re giving a voice to those who may not have a voice. And shining a light on that, so we as a general public can look and say ‘wow, that could be me too,’” said executive producer Julius Tennon of JuVee Productions.
The first episode of this seven-part documentary series unveils Jones’s case and explores how the 21-year-old, African-American college athlete was convicted of shooting a white father of two at point-blank range and sentenced to death.
Jones, now age 37, continues to protest his sentencing and insists that he is innocent. The Last Defense follows Jones’ attorneys as they work meticulously to acquire another trial before time runs out.
Jones’ attorneys have stated on numerous accounts that race and the juror’s pre-conceived notions of him, were leading factors in the results of his trial.
“The fact that people are labeled from a very young age… and once you’re labeled… forget it,” constituted Davis. Additionally, human error and inconsistencies of evidence skew the potential outcome of a case.
“We know through the exonerations cases that many types of evidence that are used in courts today, and to send people to death row, are unreliable,” added Potkin.
The Last Defense aims to reach a wide plethora of potential jurors that might not be aware of these detrimental discrepancies, and in turn, encourage them to investigate these delicate and burdensome responsibilities.
“The more we’re able to educate them about the DNA evidence and about informant testimony and how it has its flaws,” said executive producer Aida Leisenring of Lincoln Square Productions. “The more their ears will perk up when they’re listening to those kinds of witnesses. And so we hope to help on a mass level, as opposed to one person at a time.”
Potkin added that she hopes audiences and jurors alike “understand that just because you’re convicted does not mean that you’re guilty.”
The emotional seven-episode docu-series premieres Tuesday, June 12 at 10pm EST on The ABC Television Network.