“Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey had his conviction overturned by a federal judge on August 12. But it’s not the first time a film or documentary has been a factor in a major legal reversal of fortune.
“Gimme Shelter” (1970)
A documentary directed by the Maysles brothers, “Gimme Shelter” started out as a simple concert film about The Rolling Stones, but turned out to be essential documentation of the fights and violence that erupted at the Altamont Free Concert.
“The Thin Blue Line” (1988)
Errol Morris‘ documentary depicted Randall Dale Adams, a man serving life in prison for a murder he did not commit. Adams was exonerated and released from prison a year after the movie’s release.
“Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” (2003-11)
In a series of three documentaries, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky chronicled the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers wrongfully accused of murdering three children with Satanic overtones. By the time the final installment aired on HBO, the case had generated enough publicity to with the trio’s release from prison.
“The Invisible War” (2012)
The Oscar-nominated “The Invisible War” documented the culture of widespread sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military, and led to new legislation changing the way those cases are handled.
The first season of Sarah Koenig’s podcast re-investigated the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. Thanks in part to the attention from “Serial,” Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin P. Welch on June 30 2016, officially vacated Syed’s conviction and life sentence, and ordered a new trial.
“The Jinx” (2015)
The night before the high-profile and highly incriminating series finale aired, real estate heir Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans and charged with murder. In February, he pleaded guilty to gun charges but still awaits trial in L.A. for the killing of his friend, Susan Berman.
“What the hell did I do?” Durst asked himself while still mic-ed in the final episode. “Killed ’em all, of course.”