By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
There is a new documentary in current rotation on HBO and and it's one that trial lawyers and other legal junkies will want to watch. Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart provides a detailed look at the 1991 trial of the New Hampshire school employee who was tried and convicted for accessory to murder in a case that later become the inspiration for the movie To Die For starring Nicole Kidman. According to prosecutors, Smart seduced one of the students and then recruited him to murder her husband. What separates Captivated from other sensationalized post-trial documentaries is that it takes a very informed and critical look at the media's influence on trials, and also includes a very unique running commentary from one of the jurors, number 13, who provides her own reactions to the case as it unfolded: real-time comments that she spoke into her own tape recorder after every trial day. The result ends up providing a remarkable view into the continuous reactions of a sitting juror. As O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark remarked in a review in Forbes, "The insights provided by this articulate, intelligent juror are the most fascinating, and at the same time unsettling, part of the story."
Fascinating, because what you're hearing is a conscientious and thoughtful juror attempting to work through the testimony as it is presented. Unsettling, because it is clear that the media along with the force of a popular presumption of guilt also played a role in this case. Commenting on a "media circus" that made her and the other jurors "feel like a bug in a glass jar," she nonetheless tries to reach a verdict free from that pressure. Whether she and the other jurors succeeded is one of the central questions posed by the documentary, and viewers are able to draw their own conclusions. As I watched it the other night, a few thoughts occurred to me that carry relevance not only for that jury trial, but for most or all jury trials.