The Film

Mississippi Innocence Poster 

“Every story of a wrongful conviction and exoneration, from a storytelling point of view, is incredible. They’re great stories. They’re tragic. They’re sad. If we’re lucky there’s a happy ending; the guy gets out of prison. They’re all fantastic stories. But the one in Noxubee County, Mississippi, has got to be one of the best.“

JOHN GRISHAM Excerpt from “Mississippi Innocence”

In the early nineteen-nineties in rural Noxubee County, Mississippi, two young girls were – in separate crimes occurring approximately a year and a half apart – abducted from their homes, sexually assaulted, manually strangled and dumped into nearby pools of water.  In each case law enforcement arrested a perpetrator almost immediately, and the prosecution announced that it would seek the death penalty in each case.  As a result, Kennedy Brewer was convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection; Levon Brooks was convicted and sentenced to a term of life without the possibility of parole.  Combined, the two men would spend over thirty years in prison.

Both men are innocent.

Mississippi Innocence documents the story behind their wrongful convictions, the path that led to their exonerations in the spring of 2008, and their lives upon their return to the free world.  The film uses interviews with the key players involved in both the conviction and exonerations, as well as lengthy interviews and footage of Brooks and Brewer and their families, to tell fully and for the first time the depth of their – our – tragedy.  The film channels the organic power of these two innocence narratives so that viewers will experience a range of emotions – some that will challenge assumptions and force re-thinking long-held conceptions about the criminal justice system; others that will strengthen faith in the ability of individuals to survive and endure; while still others will generate shock and outrage.  In the end, the film will raise awareness, provide an opportunity for intelligent dialogue, and, in the end, offer a way forward.

The Filmmaker’s Statement

Joe YorkAfter spending a combined thirty-two years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit, Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer were exonerated and freed from prison in February, 2008. Their convictions and exonerations are an extraordinary story, or, to be more precise, set of stories.  For a brief period of time, the cases generated significant media interest.  Several short articles about the cases appeared in the New York Times, and the day after Brewer was freed, Mississippi’s leading newspaper, the [Jackson] Clarion Ledger, carried the story with a banner, front-page headline.  But coverage lasted only one news cycle, and it failed to appreciate the true import of the events.

For the media that covered the stories there was a reflexive tendency to locate what happened within a pre-existing civil rights narrative, to treat it, in essence, as yet another artifact from the era of bigoted Southern jurisprudence.  It was as though the inimitable observation of the late journalist Marshall Frady — who once described the 1965 lawless acquittal of an Alabama deputy sheriff for the cold-blooded shotgun murders of two civil rights workers as a “tribal ceremony . . . a sedulous, elaborate, tacit collaboration in falseness, unreality, [and] absurdity” — had been made relevant all over again.

But while it was certainly true that an elaborate and tacit collaboration had taken place, it could no longer be said to be merely tribal.  A closer inspection of the cases reveals a number of fascinating occurrences. To begin, all make for a riveting true-crime tale. Many are also profoundly disconcerting for those expecting a predictable narrative about how such injustices could happen, and how they could stand uncorrected for so long.

We aim to tell the stories of Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer in a way that values the legacy of those most affected: Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, of course, and their families, but also the two child victims, and their families — as well as those who are currently languishing in our nation’s prisons — either because they, too, are innocent or because, even if culpable, nevertheless also suffered a failure of justice.  We want our audience to see this story, to hear this story, to interact with this story, and our hope is that, they will feel this story through the same spectrum of emotions and senses that we have felt it as it has unfolded before us.

Though the trials took place in the early 1990’s, viewers will be able to access not only the trial itself – through in-depth interviews with Brooks and Brewer, but also follow their ordeal in prison and be with them in the courtroom at the moment of their exonerations.  In addition, the film documents their first year as free men — the death of Brooks’ mother, Brewer’s wedding, and other more pedestrian but deeply affecting personal experiences.  Also addressed though a series of interviews with the key players in the legal drama are the causes of and reactions to this failure of justice.  Interview subjects include law enforcement figures who investigated the crime scenes, the prosecutor in both cases, as well as the Mississippi Attorney General and the DNA analyst whose work was the catalyst for both men’s freedom.  The narrative enhanced by interviews with John Grisham, author of The Innocent Man and himself an advocate for improvements in the criminal justice system, as well as Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, co-founders of the Innocence Project

Screening / Booking

The filmmakers frequently make themselves available, often with the exonerees—Mr. Brooks and Mr. Brewer—to discuss the film, its making, and issues involving wrongful convictions that are raised in the film. For additional information, or for special appearance requests, please contact Carol Mockbee at carol@ms-ip.org

Footage from the film provides never-seen-before glimpses into the process that led to these convictions and exonerations, as well as insights by those who were directly affected.  Mr. Brooks and Mr. Brewer and their families welcomed us into their lives and the lives of their families for the better part of two years.  Likewise, their lawyers, whose stories drive the narrative, spoke with us candidly about their work in these particular cases, as well as their own personal thoughts about the work that they do.  This wealth of material and method of presentation create a rich opportunity, not only to appeal to a broad and diverse viewership, but also allow the material to do what it is capable of doing: breaking down barriers to understanding, celebrating simple human decency and triumph, creating mutual accountability, illuminating social injustices that betray or most basic guarantees of fairness, and, finally, offering a path forward.