Also in the audience that night, Munn said, was a filmmaker shopping a documentary about the murder of Michael Jordan’s father that’s taken eight years to compile.
“It takes some time,” Huss said. “It takes some time when you’re working with the criminal justice system.”
She emphasized that the screening is a “rough cut.”
“There are mistakes,” she said — the soundtrack is not filled out, finishing touches in sound and color need to be applied.
The storyline, too, becomes bogged down at times with what Jamback would later call a “civics lesson.”
In the course of the tale, it becomes necessary to understand the various governmental, non-governmental, academic and even private organizations that fall under the “innocence” mantle. All are concerned with getting innocent people out of jail, with varying aspects and authorities.
Central to the story, too, is the state’s innocence legislation, which began as a result of the relationship between Mumma and state Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, for whom she clerked out of law school.
Lake sat for a long interview, lending a lot of credence to the project and some insight into the 2006 legislation that created the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission. Several lawyers and politicians get their say as well, eating up precious screen time.
“Lawyers take forever to say anything,” Jamback said.
But for anyone familiar with the case, the doc is a trove of rare gems: three interviews with Greg Taylor conducted while he was still in jail and not at all certain he wouldn’t remain there for the rest of his life; a long interview with Johnny Beck, who was set free after a year without charges being filed against him; testimony from Barbara Ray that was omitted from the original trial.
Serious government wonks will love the footage of the hearing before the three-judge panel, itself a study in narrative nonfiction that makes for compelling courtroom drama all on its own. This is where the audience sees the pugnacity of Tom Ford, the man who first prosecuted Taylor as Durham DA now inexplicably called on to prosecute him again. Ford’s badgering style in cross-examination makes him a great villain, and it shows our hero, Taylor, standing strong under the barrage.
It’s where we meet Barbara Ray. And it is the setting for Duane Deaver’s sensational admission that set off the biggest scandal in state law enforcement this century.
There are heroes like Mumma, the dogged investigator who found the missing piece in a fit of desperation, when she and an assistant had begun going over the case files by hand, and Ed Taylor, the loyal brother who stood by throughout.
“Eddie was the go-to person in the family, with all the legal stuff,” Jamback said. “He interfaced with the attorneys and the investigators and he knew everything backwards and forwards. And we sort of gave him short shrift.
“The scene in the film at the very end,” Jamback continued, “after the first time Judge Manning declares him innocent, he said, ‘Seventeen years, that’s what we’ve been waiting for,’ and he choked up and that’s his moment, really, in the film. It’s the climax of his storyline.”
They’re still debating the footage of private investigator and former police officer Marty Sexton, which hit on one of the most relevant facts in the case.
“He has a quote where he basically reinforces what Chris [Mumma] and others said,” Jamback explained. “The thing that made Greg stand out is that he and Johnny never turned on each other. Marty says the same thing — ‘What is really amazing is that these guys never turn on each other. Other people in that situation usually give the other person up in two seconds.’ And I said, ‘We don’t want to add another character in this film who is only going to say one thing.’”
“I say yes,” she said. “When a police officer and all his years of serving in a police department, for him to say it is more powerful than just Chris. That jumped off the page to me first.”
“I told Jamie [Huss] we’d go look at the footage again,” Jamback said.
Before the screening, Greg Taylor stood in the cold air outside the Hanesbrands Theatre with Chris Mumma,
“I know that dude,” Greg Taylor said to a ponytailed man, a guy he recognized from prison, who approached. He said the same to a reporter he hasn’t seen in years.
“I know that dude.”
The years of freedom have been good. He’s employed and single, and the $4 million windfall, which doesn’t even begin to cover his 17 years behind bars, does make things a little easier. He spends time with his grandchildren, three of them now, and travels. Last year alone he visited Belize, Hawaii and Las Vegas.
“I’ll never be over this,” he told the reporter. “I was behind bars for a third of my life. It’s just a part of me. I’m not trying to run or hide from it. I’m just trying to make sense of it.”
When Taylor entered the lobby, Gregg Jamback and Jamie Huss surrounded him and guided him to the receiving line under the stairwell so he can press flesh, but he kept drifting away and no one made an effort to corral him.
“At first we thought this film was about a process,” Huss said. “Then it was about Greg as a person. Then it was a confession, and then it’s a rogue agent. And then it shifted again with the whole process in the SBI.
“Every time you think it’s about one thing, bam! We got a surprise.”
“In filmmaking there’s this device called the McGuffin,” Jamback said. “In The Maltese Falcon, it was the Maltese falcon — the kind of thing that runs through the whole story but it’s really kind of irrelevant.”
Greg Taylor, he said, is a kind of McGuffin.
“In a way I have always thought this piece is Greg’s story,” he continued, “but it could have been about any one of the 13 exonerees. The real story has always been the creation of the commission and the work that Chris had done to free all these people.”
If Taylor is affected by his role as a minor player in his own saga, he doesn’t show it. He recently went to a reunion at his high school — Sanderson, in Raleigh — and found some clarity in a conversation with an old classmate.
“I said to her, ‘You know, I’m just trying to find a purpose in all this,’” Taylor remembered.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry about finding the purpose. Just keep telling your story.’”