A lot of men convicted by Dallas County have walked free over the past dozen years -- 44, according to the University of Michigan's National Registry of Exonerations. District Attorney Craig Watkins has made the liberation of innocent prisoners his personal mission, as well as his ticket to national fame.
Some of them returned quietly to their interrupted lives. Others decided to try to change the system that had caused the interruption. Back in 2011, Michael May wrote a piece for the Texas Observer profiling a group of them who had banded together to form the Texas Exoneree Project, which advocates for criminal justice reforms.
Now, they're getting their own movie.
Texas filmmaker Jamie Meltzer is working to fund Freedom Fighters, a documentary that chronicles the post-prison lives of the Dallas County exonerees pushing for change. He's launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the film, though he's already put together a pretty solid trailer:
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Texas Monthly interviewed Meltzer about the film. Turns out that May, the author of the Observer piece, was a consultant for Meltzer's previous documentary, which focused on an Austin activist-turned-government informant.
"He called me up and told me about this new detective agency started by exonerees in Dallas, and I was immediately hooked," Meltzer told Texas Monthly. "I loved the idea of approaching the issue of wrongful conviction from a completely fresh vantage point. That a couple of exonerees had decided to start a detective agency just seemed like an amazing and novel concept, one of those things that just makes perfect sense -- who better than them, right?"
Meltzer's chronicling three exonerees, Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey and Billy Smith. Scott was locked up on a murder charged, Lindsey and Smith for sexual assault. They all spent more than a dozen years beyond bars for crimes they didn't commit.
"So far I think the thing that struck me the most is, here are guys who have spent decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit and they are so amazingly positive and not bitter at all," Meltzer said. "They want to turn that tragedy into real, lasting change to the justice system."