“The Past is Never Dead” is an emotional and morally complex documentary about the wrongful conviction of David Robinson and his 17-year struggle to prove his innocence. David’s freestanding claim of actual innocence is national in scope and will set U.S. legal precedent on habeas corpus and due process. His case is now before the Missouri Supreme Court.
David was arrested for murder in the fall of 2000, and with testimony from two suspect criminal informants he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. There was no evidence, DNA, or confession, and he had multiple alibis. As the years passed, the informants recanted under oath, claiming police coercion, and the true killer confessed on audiotape and then committed suicide. Yet David is still in prison. The film presents the judicial system through the lens of Sikeston, Missouri, a small southern cotton town near the Mississippi River.
There have been hundreds of films and programs about paid criminal informants, police coercion, the overwhelmed public defender system, and the inundated appeals courts, but to experience a story where all these issues come together in such an open and public way is extraordinary… The idea that a person who is able to prove his innocence and still be kept in prison is why “The Past is Never Dead” exists.
The commitment to make the film came after an embarrassing moment during my first meeting with David’s pro bono lawyers at the Bryan Cave Law Firm in St. Louis. I had read, thoroughly, the State’s argument for denial, but since it was not making any sense, I felt I must have misunderstood. When I shared my confusion they laughed and said that I understood it completely. They told me that innocence, by itself (re: a “freestanding claim of actual innocence”), is maybe the hardest case to make for exoneration, and not because of the difficultly in proving absolute innocence, but that once someone has been “fairly” convicted by a jury, changes (recantations) during post-conviction testimony are usually discounted by judges. Liars lie, especially snitches and jailhouse informants, and once proven as liars, their recanted testimony is suspect.
The perceived issue in granting exoneration under the claim of actual innocence is that it opens the door to admitting a jury trial that uses police snitches (and paid informants–either by cash or promises) is systemically flawed.
Steve E. Turner, Producer/Director/Cinematographer
Legal Context for the film (a freestanding claim to actual innocence)
A “freestanding claim to actual innocence” is where the defendant claims innocence because of new evidence or changed testimony, and that he or she did not commit the crime in which accused. It also claims no actionable error in the original trial. The perceived issue in granting exoneration under the claim of actual innocence is that it opens the door to admitting a jury trial that uses police snitches (and paid informants–either by cash or promises) is systemically flawed. The U.S. Supreme Court has written on the subject twice before …
1993 – Herrera v. Collins – U.S. Supreme Court – Denied
“Consequently, the issue before us is not whether a State can execute the innocent. It is … whether a fairly convicted and therefore legally guilty person is constitutionally entitled to yet another judicial proceeding in which to adjudicate his guilt anew, 10 years after conviction, notwithstanding his failure to demonstrate that constitutional error infected his trial.” – Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner
2009 – Troy Davis petition the U.S. Supreme Court – Denied
“There is no basis, tradition, or even in contemporary practice for finding that in the Constitution the right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after a conviction.” [… the court has] “never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is actually innocent.” – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Lincoln Barr, Film Composer (lincolnbarrmusic.com)
Lincoln Barr is a songwriter and singer based in Seattle, Washington. After thirteen years leading the pop group Red Jacket Mine, he’s released his debut solo album, Trembling Frames – a set of deeply personal songs that grapple with trauma and the instability of memory.
Barr is currently composing and producing an original score for filmmaker Steve E. Turner‘s forthcoming documentary The Past is Never Dead, which features a stellar cast of studio musicians, including Calexico drummer John Convertino and Brooklyn-based saxophonist Levon Henry.