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Netflix Trial 4 investigates whether teenager Sean K. Ellis was wrongly accused of killing a cop

gSince its stories often involve mysteries that go unresolved or have been inappropriately investigated and prosecuted, the real-life crime genre regularly paints unflattering images of law enforcement and the system. criminal justice. This is absolutely the case with Trial 4, an eight-part Netflix documentary series (premiering November 11) about Sean K. Ellis, who in 1993 was arrested at the age of 19 for the murder of Boston Police Detective John Mulligan. Ellis was tried for the murder three times in 1995, and after the first two court cancellations he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The problem being, as argued by the non-fiction work of Remy Burkel (produced by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade of the staircase), he was an innocent man – and a victim of very bad people.

In the wee hours of September 26, 1993, Detective Mulligan was shot five times in the face (including once directly in the nose) while sleeping in his SUV on a security feature in a Walgreens parking lot. Everyone agreed, at first glance, that it was a performance-style success. However, despite a few early leads, attention quickly shifted to Ellis, thanks to his admission – while talking to cops about his cousins’ double murder, which had just happened – that he had bought diapers at the Walgreens. in question. at the time of the murder. Although Ellis was engaged in low-level drug trafficking, he and the friend who drove him to the drugstore, Terry Patterson, had no motive to kill Mulligan. Nonetheless, the Boston Police Department quickly came to the conclusion that Ellis and Patterson (who were black) murdered the cop (who was white) because they wanted his gun as a trophy.

The fact that the murder weapon and Mulligan’s gun were later found in a lot near Sean’s house only reinforced this theory, as did the subsequent testimony against him by his girlfriend and son. uncle. Nevertheless, something stank so much in this fragile case that the first two juries who heard it left deadlocked. It wasn’t until the third attempt that the District Attorney’s Office got what it was looking for, triumphing in a saga of cop murder they were determined to solve.

As the title suggests, Trial 4 is about Ellis ‘uphill battle to get a new day in court, and he benefits immensely from a wealth of archival news and’ 90s police footage – including forensic videos of cops passing overhead. Mulligan’s car with a fine-tooth comb – and interviews with an Ellis seen in various locations outside the prison. It is only late in the proceedings that we learn that he was released on bail pending a new trial, and by representing him at his home, in his neighborhood, and by collaborating with his lawyers, the series creates a certain suspense. Nonetheless, this is a small problem given that Ellis’ participation is vital, providing a window not only to his version of the events of that fateful night of 1993, but also to his experiences in trying to make his name disappear for a crime that he is categorical that he did not commit.

Trial 4 Traces Ellis’ journey in exhaustive and meticulous detail, using constant text cards to expose the timeline of events surrounding Mulligan’s murder, and taking an in-depth look at the ways the cops tried to attribute the crime to him . Thanks in large part to the tireless work of Ellis’ new attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, what he uncovers is a network of corruption within the Boston Police Department. It turns out that three cops working on the case – Kenneth Acerra, Walter Robinson, and John Brazil – were all as dirty as the inside of a Porta Potti, infamous throughout the region (and the department) for paying. witnesses, compel people to testify, and rob drug dealers of their money and reserves. The fact that the trio took the lead in the Mulligan investigation – this despite the fact that Acerra and Robinson were drug cops, not homicide detectives – immediately called him into question.

The subsequent revelation that Mulligan himself may have been the fourth member of their illicit cop cabal was – after Ellis had spent more than two decades behind bars – enough to earn him a new trial. Trial 4 turns into a familiar and infuriating tale about police officers who break the law for their own ends, close ranks and protect their own no matter what, then conspire with prosecutors to pursue bogus cases – and, when those – ci call, double down and stick to their guns rather than admitting fault and doing good by innocent men and women. The big picture of systemic injustice is clear to all.

The fact that the trio took the lead in the Mulligan investigation – this despite the fact that Acerra and Robinson were drug cops, not homicide detectives – immediately called him into question.

Unfortunately, it’s also hard to ignore this Trial 4 is inflated beyond reasonable measure. The animated recreations of the multiple possible versions of Mulligan’s murder are crisp and effective, and both candid Ellis and crusader Scapicchio – the kind of brand any defendant would want in their corner – are engaging protagonists who address the various personal, racial elements. and socio-cultural. at stake in this drama. But director Burkel spends an inordinate amount of time on superfluous passages that give little vital insight and sabotage some momentum. Nowhere is this more strongly felt than in a late and prolonged detour into the campaign for the new Boston District Attorney – an election that has relevance to Ellis’ case, but could have been sufficiently summed up in five minutes. . Likewise, a look at Ellis’ childhood experiences being bused to a white school, where he befriended a boy whose mother would later fight for his freedom, both speaks broader problems of racial division highlighting its plight and proving to be excessively distended.

At a breakneck pace five or six installments, Trial 4 reportedly resonated with indignant force on the need for greater transparency and oversight of law enforcement, and on the dangers posed by overly powerful police unions and district attorneys who act as if they of accounts than to themselves. Yet operating for around seven hours, it sometimes undermines its dynamism by unnecessary diversions. That’s no different from many other Netflix (and real crime) companies that prioritize overloading everything and the kitchen sink over lean argumentative efficiency. While no amount of streaks can ultimately eclipse the dire fate that befell Ellis, as well as the tenacity and resilience he has shown in the face of daunting obstacles and unsavory opponents – a courage which shows that even in the face of wrongdoing, the truth, however nuanced and compromised, can be revealed.

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