Texas’s criminal justice system is notorious for aggressive prosecutors and tough sentences, but it’s quickly also becoming known for something else: exonerations. A recent report by the National Registry of Exonerations found that 53 of the 114 exonerations since 1989 occured in Texas. Of those, nearly half were handled by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, more than any other region in the nation.
It’s a peculiarly endemic problem for the area, one that prompted the exonerated men of Dallas to band together and form the Freedom Fighters, a private detective agency that investigates cases of other inmates claiming they were wrongfully convicted. This story came to the attention of documentary filmmaker Jamie Meltzer, an assistant professor at Stanford University’s documentary film program, and he is now making Freedom Fighters, a film about the organization and its founding members.
Nate Blakeslee: I understand the idea for your film about the Freedom Fighters grew from a 2011 report in the Texas Observer. What drew you to this story?
Jamie Meltzer: Michael May, who wrote the Observer piece, was involved as a reporter and consultant for my previous film, INFORMANT [about Brandon Darby, a controversial Austin activist who became a government informant]. He called me up and told me about this new detective agency started by exonerees in Dallas, and I was immediately hooked. I