I’m always fascinated by documentaries which show the justice system at work. Maybe it’s because I studied law, but the process always is interesting to watch (even though all my knowledge of the American system comes from movies) and Murder on a Sunday Morning shows a lot of that. The case is about an elderly couple who was on holiday in Florida. They were at their motel and a black man robbed them, killing the wife. The man gave out a description and only 90 minutes later 15-year-old Brenton Butler is arrested and positively ID’ed by the husband and the police have a signed confession. It seems like a closed case and is taken to trial. When that trial starts it becomes clear that it is all but a closed case and that the police might have not done everything they should have.
As a viewer you join the defense team and see how they decide to tackle the case, intensively going each and every detail, questioning the tactics used by the police on the 15-year-old and also checking if there actually was a thorough investigation. Brenton Butler doesn’t seem like a teenager who could have done it as he never ran into trouble with the police before and according to his alibi he was on his way to apply for a job.
You get to see so much of the trial that you actually get a good idea of what is going on and as the defense does the best they can, you see the psychological games which need to be played by them, to make police witnesses uncomfortable and try to let them make mistakes. It is thrilling stuff to watch and as a viewer you side with them, believing that they didn’t do it. Still, you know that during a trial people can be convicted even if they are innocent (as West of Memphis shows). This riveting documentary won an Oscar for its story and filled me with anger about the way this case was handled and Brenton was treated. You’ll have to see for yourself what the outcome was.