by BRUCE FESSIER, The Desert Sun
The American Documentary Film Festival is again shifting the balance of justice
Just as the first AmDocs featured a film casting doubt on O.J. Simpson’s guilt in the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson – years before the recent announcement that Martin Sheen is executive producing a new six-part docu-series for Investigation Discovery to prove Simpson’s innocence – this year’s fourth annual AmDocs features a documentary casting quite reasonable doubt that Scott Peterson did not kill his wife and unborn son in what was arguably the crime of this century.
“Trial By Fury,” screening at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Camelot Theatres and 3:30 p.m. Sunday at CSU Palm Desert, presents evidence that Peterson was a lying, unsympathetic philanderer, but there is no concrete evidence that he killed his pregnant wife, Laci, in Modesto on Christmas Eve 2002 and dumped the bodies in the San Francisco Bay. Peterson was convicted of first degree murder in 2004 and he remains on death row in San Quentin.
Director Shareen Anderson presents evidence indicating the Modesto police investigators decided Peterson was guilty early on and then ignored evidence suggesting their hypothesis was wrong. It shows how a detective attempted to erase a note indicating the police had reasonable doubt about Peterson’s guilt, and that the detective lied under questioning by Peterson attorney Mark Geragos about that until Geragos showed him the note with the erased paragraph restored via technology.
Geragos, a partner in the V Palm Springs Hotel, is expected to attend Saturday’s “sneak peek” screening.
“Trial By Fury” even presents evidence suggesting who might have committed the murders. A witness says she saw a burglary across the street from the Peterson house on Dec. 24 and the police actually caught the burglars two days later. But the burglars said they committed the burglary on Dec. 26 and the police believed them, even though the media was all over that neighborhood reporting on the Peterson killings that day. So the police didn’t thoroughly investigate the possibility that the burglars might have committed the murders, the film suggests, after Laci encountered them while walking her dog.
In fact, the film shows how the police led the media to believe Laci Peterson, didn’t walk her dog that morning, as Scott Peterson testified and other neighbors told the filmmakers. Anderson even found a witness who claims she saw a pregnant woman taken out of a van and allowed to urinate, adding credence to the defense argument that she was abducted, instead of killed by her husband.
Three jurors who thought Peterson was innocent were removed from the trial, including the foreman, who asked to be removed after claiming to have been bullied. After the verdict, TV talk show host Larry King is seen asking a juror how Laci Peterson was murdered and the juror asks King to be more specific. King reminds the juror he had just convicted Peterson of murdering his wife and he was just asking how Peterson did it. The juror only replies that Peterson killed his wife in his house – even though police could not find any evidence of blood or proof that blood had been cleaned up.
Why was Peterson convicted of a “trial by fury,” as the title says? It was the early days of cell phones, the director notes, and people were texting in the courtroom. So, between texting and the growing popularity of Internet activity, inflammatory information was spreading faster than ever before. There was a fever pitch outside of the courtroom and in households following the trial on Court TV.
Anderson paints a very vivid picture that Peterson was perceived as a bad guy and the unsequestered jury really wanted to make him pay.
For ticket information, go to american-documentary-film-festival.com.