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Friday, 12 July 2013

Student documentary tells story behind one wrongful conviction


Johnnie Lee Savory left the room a few seconds after the film started playing. He later re-entered, standing at the back of the room in Annenberg Hall while his story unfolded.
Savory is the subject of a short documentary directed by Medill senior Ashima Singal, highlighting the case that kept Savory in prison for 30 years. A Wasted Life:The Johnnie Lee Savory Story, shown May 16, focuses on Savory’s case and also touches on the weaknesses of the judicial system.
“I had no doubt that I was going to win my case because I never was going to give up,” Savory said.
The film runs about 15 minutes and consists of various interviews, each concerning the charges against Savory and the proceedings of his case. The early interviews quickly move from discussing a man to debating the question of Savory’s innocence. The conflicting opinions act as an introduction to the primary focus of the film: Savory’s legal case.
Savory, arrested at the age of 14, spent 30 years in prison for the murder of two teenagers, maintaining his claim of innocence for the duration of his incarceration. The film highlights the inaccuracies in the case against Savory and different problems within the judicial system that resulted in three decades spent in prison.
The screening, presented by the Northwestern Community Development Corps (NCDC) and the Undergraduate Lecture Series, was followed by a question-and-answer session with Savory and Singal. They answered questions about legal proceedings, evidence in the case and Savory’s adjustment to life outside of prison.
Savory, who was released on parole in December 2006, said the legal system was different at the time of his arrest.
“Justice was not something that was common to people of color,” he said. “Today we have a voice.”
On the topic of his wrongful conviction, Savory feels the system, specifically the prison review board, is partially to blame. The 15 members on the board were mostly people involved in law enforcement, Savory said, which resulted in bias and prejudice against the accused.
“They have the ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ mentality,” Savory said. “The lack of integrity and honor is always the reason for criminal injustice.”
Since his release, Savory has spent time putting his life back together. He has secured a job, spent time with family members and done “things that most people take for granted.” He said he is also working on an amendment to the judicial system which deals with giving less-harsh sentences for first-time offenders of nonviolent acts.
In addition to returning to a normal life, Savory said he is dedicated to preventing others from suffering injustices such as his. He vowed to go to radio stations, universities and television stations in order to make his story known.
Savory said he respected Singal’s perseverance and commitment to justice. Among the people he credited for his release, including his lawyers, he also said journalists are an integral part of uncovering injustices.
“The camera never lets [people] hide,” he said. “It never lets anyone forget.”
The film, while advocating changes in legal procedures, also works to raise awareness of cases like Savory’s.
“You can’t say you haven’t been exposed to this anymore,” he said after the film, “because at this moment, this day, I entered your lives.”

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