"Premiering Monday, June 4 at 10/9c PM on TV One and hosted by acclaimed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, each one-hour episode of Evidence of Innocence focuses on one wrongfully convicted man or woman - Lisa Roberts, Richard Miles, Melonie Ware and Mark Schand."
Rushion McDonald and Benjamin Crump talked about their grounds for making such an enthralling show.
McDonald is executive producer of the The Steve Harvey Show. His rich credits include The Jamie Fox Show, Hanging with Mr. Cooper, The Steve Harvey Show (with Ced the Entertainer), Think Like a Man and Think Like a Man Too. His positive outlook was internally and outwardly black.
Crump is a civil rights activist and high-profile attorney, who fought tirelessly for the preceded rights of Travon Martin’s family after his untimely death, in addition to the murder of Michael Brown.
"I thought this shows development was an idea of mine that I brought to, whom I consider a good friend, civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump. We’ve always gone back and forth about crime drama shows and trying to do shows that we felt were authentic or stayed within the brand of communication, that is a brand of fighting for the unjust," said McDonald.
"Just the other day, some people were exonerated after spending 20 something years in prison. I don’t know how I would react, or what would happen to me mentally and physically if I was in jail for an extended period, for a crime that I did not do. What would I do? How would I react if nobody believed me-- And this is the point of my life where I thought I’d spend the rest of my years in prison.’
“The people that we have for this show have overcome the odds. They are positive people in the community; and that’s where the motivational part comes from, that they are motivated to live good lives, [they are able] to change the lives of people who are on the outside, so they won’t make the same mistakes. The key to this whole show is, [to bring awareness], it can happen to you, and that’s very true. The people featured in this show are many people who never thought it would happen to them. Some of these people just were walking on the streets. For others, someone just knocked on their door. There is never a set situation that you can be impacted by being falsely imprisoned.
It’s the motivation of being successful. These people, withstood the negativity, they withstood the environment. That’s a part that I really felt, it completed this series. These people did not let the negative weight of desolation turn them into victims. They stayed motivated to see the truth, which we are giving the light of the truth, and the release from prison. They came out of jail and prison. They are living very positive lives, like I said earlier. I took that concept to TV ONE, which is Tia Smith [Director of Original Programming/Producer for TV ONE], and they got it," said McDonald.
“I told them that Benjamin Crump was going to be involved as the host. They got excited, because of his point of view and what he stands for. Then, they brought Jupiter on-board. I’m very familiar with their brand, production, and high level of professionalism. This is what they do in the business. If you want to do it right, go do it with someone who does it at the highest level—And that’s what Jupiter does as a production company.”
McDonald emphasized that the network and production delivered beyond his wildest dreams. He also incorporated that the messaging serves as a beacon for African Americans, who seem to fall victim to this type of thing often.
Attorney Crump shared his thoughts as well...
“It’s an important show with important issues—And just like Rushion said, we were looking to do a show that not only talked about the denial of due process or people not getting justice, which too often falls on African Americans and people of color. We were also looking to do a show that was very engaging, that was relevant to not only the time, but relevant to your life. I thought, 'I go to court rooms across America, and I see the inequity of justice.' For a chance, we wanted to do a show that would speak to these perspective future jurors, and say, "These are those examples were the system got it wrong."
The innocence project and the social justice organization believes that there are as many as 100, 000 innocent people sitting in American prisons, complete innocence, and didn’t do anything wrong. They were at the wrong place, at the wrong time. They fit a description,” Crump continued.
“This can really happen to anybody and especially a lot of the audience of TV ONE. A lot of the people, who make up the communities of color, it can happen at any point, to your sons, your daughters or your loved ones. Some were very compelling that you have this real drama that happens. It’s not a legal technical show. Even when I was talking to Rushion, I wanted to get that point across, because I need to talk about prosecutorial misconduct. I think so often about all these cases. Everybody said they were innocent. Everybody had alibis. But they were poor people of color and that [their cry of innocence] seemed to fall on deaf ears to a very discriminatory American Justice System.
'I particularly think about the Lisa Roberts, a poor black woman who was a lesbian in Portland, Organ. She was a veteran, and had served her country dutifully. She was a good person, but when her girlfriend was strangled, they wrongfully accused her. She had an alibi. She was with their daughter. Everybody vouched for her being where she said she was at. The prosecutor in this case said that the cell phone technology, and cellphone ping that put her near where the crime took place, that she was lying. They convicted her on misrepresentation that the prosecutor was right, the police was right, and this poor woman of color was wrong. Finally, and unfortunately, 14-years later, the good lawyers who started looking at her case and evidence determined that this woman was innocent. When they requested from the prosecutor, as they legally have a right to do, for the cell phone verification-- At that point, the prosecutor said that they didn’t have the technology available to them, at the time. The prosecutor was disingenuous, that’s a fancy word for lying.
We must speak truth to power, but this happens every day in America. This show, I think is a ground breaking TV show, because in its premise, it’s not like all these other criminals legally reenactment shows that find justice as locking them up and throwing away the key. It is defining justice as getting to the truth, and getting people out of jail."
Truth can never be confined to time and culture; in history it is known, but it also reaches beyond history.
Tia Smith [TV ONE Sr. Director, Original Programming & Production], explained that the gentleman spoke passionately, and with great reason. She said that as a network, their goal was to share the truthfulness of the accused… their names and the triumph after they found a victorious resolve though it took years to nullify their convictions.
“In some cases,” Tia spoke. “They forgave the system, and they forgave some of the people involved in their cases.”
TV ONE is featuring four cases, of people who were convicted unjustly, who proved their innocence although the justice failed them instinctively and without remorse. They continued to fight against those odds, and held on to their veracity, their faith, and altruism no matter what.
Todd Moss, Executive Producer and Vice President of Programming for Jupiter Productions, said he was thrilled to work on this creation with modern day heroes, Benjamin Crump and Rushion McDonald. He also articulated that out of his 30 years of doing crime shows, with hundreds of hours in work, he could not be prouder than these four hours that he’s worked on with TV ONE.
Furthering our reflective dialogue, Todd Moss and Benjamin Crump, elaborated a little more.
“Each case had its own unique situation“ Moss replied. "In the case of Lisa Roberts, they were eventually able to identify a person. That person was already incarcerated for other crimes; so, they were behind bars by the time the truth was revealed. In the case of Richard Miles, it’s a detailed case. It was a technicality about it. They did not prosecute the other individual, but had identified him. In the space of graciousness, in Richard Miles, he forgave the individual who did this crime, and never spoke up to help Richard and his freedom, which I think is an unbelievable amount of grace. Even though these situations were different, in some cases, people were behind bars and others, people weren’t. The fact remained, had these individuals not fought the good fight and exonerated themselves, and help identify the proper people, law enforcement would not have lifted a finger to do it--And that’s the truth of it."
“I think Todd explained a lot it," shared Crump. “I was motivated after meeting these people and them allowing us to come into their lives and interact with their families. At the end of the tapings, I know Rushion and I had a moment where we talked about that. You kind of felt that it was beyond TV, and anything scripted. It was very, very, real. This was special. You have a bond with them for life. I was motivated and inspired by them. These were regular common folk who would not let their spirits be broken. No matter how daunting the realities were—That’s what makes this show so special. I pray that many people watch it, and do it like James Baldwin, and “Go tell it on the mountain top hill.” It’s an important show, not just for entertainment purposes but for the future of our children and our communities. It’s that deep on that level.
It can happen to you. We don’t want that to escape people. We aren’t talking about something in a vacuum. This could happen to your son or your daughter. You need to watch and understand how the system works; so hopefully, it will impact juries, who are going to sit in those courtrooms. I invite all of you to go into the back of the courtroom and see how justice is being administered. As particular as I want to believe I am, until you see it firsthand, you really can’t have it explained to you. That’s what I think Evidence of Innocence does. I’m so thankful to TV ONE because it allows us to let people see it firsthand, accounts of the miscarriage of justice.”
The Evidence of Innocence Docu-series is set to premiere June 4, 2018 at 10:00 PM EST