Dir. Gregg Jamback, USA, 2017, 97 min.
Director Gregg Jamback takes an almost clinical approach in this documentary, chronicling the story of Greg Taylor, a North Carolina man who was convicted of murder after stumbling on the body of prostitute at the end of a Raleigh cul-de-sac while using drugs with a friend. It’s as if Jamback doesn’t want any emotional texture or hint of an agenda to prejudice viewers’ reckoning with the facts.
Taylor’s story is miraculous: After an Innocence Inquiry Commission recommended his case for review, a three-judge panel judge unanimously found Taylor innocent in 2010, overturning his conviction. Appropriately, the documentary focuses on the human dimensions of the story: Taylor’s nearly 17-year ordeal in prison, as his parents, brother and daughter experience the emotional rollercoaster of multiple appeals, while also paying respect to the murdered woman, Jacquetta Thomas. But the real bombshell doesn’t come until close to the end, when a State Bureau of Investigation analyst admits on the stand that he suppressed evidence indicating that a substance found on Taylor’s Nissan Pathfinder came back negative for blood. But it wasn’t just the misconduct of one rogue analyst. Deaver testified that the wording of his report was based on SBI policy set by his superiors. And while the epilogue informs us that the General Assembly passed the Forensic Science Reform Act of 2011 — presumably preventing future acts of evidence corruption — the manner in which the state agency systemically rigged the system against criminal defendants for decades begs for more scrutiny.
In Pursuit of Justice screens at SECCA on April 20 at 5 p.m. and at Hanesbrands Theatre on April 28 at 4 p.m. Director Gregg Jamback attends both screenings.