Crime Film Documentaries
Film Reviews: Roger Ebert James Berardinelli Desson Howe (Washington Post) Rita Kempley (Washington Post) Vincent Canby (New York Times) Nathan Raban John Nesbit Austin Chronicle Polly Staffle Spirituality & Practice (review by Frederic Brussat & Mary Ann Brussat) Hardscrabble (commentary by Chas S. Clifton) Emanuel Levy Virginia Wayne Rolling Stone New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made
An Account of the Case and the Community Involvement in It: A Death in the Family [a series (5 parts) by Hart Seely]
Historical-Fiction Novel: Jon Clinch's Kings of the Earth (Random House, 2010), a historical-fiction novel based on the 1990 murder trial of Delbert Ward, of Munnsville. [Los Angeles Times book review]
Bibliography: Thomas M. Kemple, Litigating Illiteracy: The Media, the Law, and The People of the State of New York v. Adelbert Ward, 10 Can. J.L. & Soc. 73 (1995)(Kemple is a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia) [this article can be found using the HeinOnline database][The article is of minimal use for our purposes, but does present a transcipt of a comment by the neighbor, John Teeple, that is of value, as is Kemple's drawing attention to the rural/urban culture differences so adeptly presented in the film.]
A Brief Account of the Case: "Best Brothers: The Delbert Ward Case," in Cyril Wecht, Cause of Death 235-259 (Onyx, 1994) [Wecht testified for the defense in the Delbert Ward murder trial][Cyril Wecht]
Portraying Delbert Ward (and his brothers) to the Jury: How are you going to describe/define/convey Delbert Ward, and his brothers, to the jury? (How do the filmmakers portray Delbert and his brothers?)
Here are some descriptive terms found in viewers comments and in film reviews:
On the DVD back cover, we find the following descriptive terms: "eccentric brothers" | "eccentric farmers" | "elderly bachelors" | "uneducated hermit" (Delbert Ward)
On Representing Clients to the Jury: Creating a Client's Image (first six pages of the article)(the article is by Spencer Rand, Creating My Client’s Image: Is Case Theory Value Neutral in Public Benefits Cases?, 28 J. Law & Pol'y 69 (2008)
The Interrogation and Confession of Delbert Ward
How you present Delbert Ward to the jury is going to be part and parcel of your efforts to deal with the fact that he signed a confession and the confession is going to be made part of the prosecution's case.
"Patently clear from the outset (to everyone but the police and prosecutors) is that Delbert is not a person who should be signing confessions without the benefit of counsel. One townsperson astutely observed that Delbert probably didn't know the difference between waving to someone in the street and waiving his rights."
Note: The prosecution went to considerable effort to show that Delbert Ward knowingly waived his rights to a lawyer and knowing and willingly gave the statement in which he confessed to his brother's killing. The prosecution, at least so far as we know by way of the film, proceeds to try to show that Delbert is not nearly so isolated or so illiterate as the defense claims. Christopher Null in a 2003, filmcritic.com review of "Brother's Keeper": "Is Delbert really as dim as he seems? After all, the guy watches Jeopardy."
The prosecution attempts to show that Delbert is more savvy than he lets on, and even that he knows what it means to waive his legal rights, by showing that Delbert watched "Hunter" a TV program about a detective who has, evidently, on some of the programs, criminal suspects were depicted as being given their Miranda warnings, and by watching "Matlock" a TV program starring Andy Griffin as a lawyer.
To make a "knowing" waiver of his rights, the prosecution must tries to show that Delbert Ward has a media literacy that will stand-in for his questionable reading|writing illiteracy. Can Delbert Ward read? We learn he did not have his glasses with him at the police station. The issue as to whether he can read with glasses is left unresolved in the film. [Cyril Wecht, in his account of the trial, notes that whenever Delbert was "asked to read or sign something, he would conveniently claim he didn't have his glasses on him."]["Best Brothers: The Delbert Ward Case," in Cyril Wecht, Cause of Death 235-259, at 239 (Onyx, 1994)]
There is, in the film, a struggle over "locating" Delbert's literacy/illiteracy. In this struggle, the lawyers attempt not just to describe and define Delbert Ward but to do so in a way that leads the jury to a decision as to whether he could knowing waive his rights. (And why, one wonders, wasn't the confession thrown out in a pretrial hearing on a motion to suppress?)
It is one thing to point to Delbert's illiteracy, still another to "prove" that he is mentally retarded. Note that a clinical psychologist who interviews Delbert and testifies at the trial gave him some tests and found that he was "mentally retarded" and has a "schizoidal personality disorder." [Schizoid personality disorderWikipedia]
One of the few academic articles written about the trial is Thomas M. Kemple, Litigating Illiteracy: The Media, the Law, and The People of the State of New York v. Adelbert Ward, 10 Can. J.L. & Soc. 73 (1995) [The article can be found on HeinOnline.] Note the irony in the title. Kemple is, of course, referring most obviously to Delbert Ward's illiteracy and how it is being litigated in his murder trial. I have a sense of illiteracy in the sense that the prosecutors/investigators/medical exhibit illiteracy when it comes to understanding their own place in a world they inhabit with the Wards and the people of Munnsville--with the farmers of Munnsville.
Mentally-Ill Defendants and False Confessions: Defendant Profiles
Coerced & False Confessions
Links to Web Resources and Videos || The Exoneration of Ronald Kitchen [YouTube video][CBS, July 28, 2009] || Coerced Confessions, NYCLU Calls on Police to Videotape Interrogations || Coerced Confessions [Prof. Richard Rosen, University of North Carolina School of Law, Presentation to, Public Defender Conference, May 14, 2008] || How to Get a False Confession in Ten Easy Steps [Nathan J. Gordon, director of the Academy for Scientific Investigative Training, Philadelphia, Pennsylvanial; author of Effective Interviewing and Interrogation Techniques]
[Innocence Project] || False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications [Richard A. Leo, 37 (3) J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law :332 (2009)] || Police Interrogations and Confessions
[Saul Kassin] || Untrue Confessions
[Paul Cassell] || False Confessions: Annotated Clinical Research [Joe Wheeler Dixon]
The "Two Worlds" Problem: The Decision to Charge Delbert Ward with Murder
One of Delbert Ward's neighbors, John Teeple, comments in the film:
Thomas M. Kemple's statement of the problem goes like this:
The "urban centre" identified by Kemple is the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Medical Examiner, and the DA's office (presumably all of them working from Syracuse). What we see in the film is what Kemple describes, in passing, as "city professionals" with their "specialized tasks and functions."  Kemple argues "that the hyperliteracy of the bureaucratic legal profession, especially when confronted with relative or absolute illiteracy, forces us to peer into the blind spot of modern society, indeed, to sound out the zero point of contemporary culture." 
Kemple also makes reference to "urban and rural conceptions of justice" and to rural and urban culture. [90, 91]
Kemple hints at something important going on in this film, and obscures the point in making it:
As I work through this stark dichotomy in the film, between the professionals--the DA, police investigators, medical examiner (or what we might call the "suits")--and the Wards and their world, I am reminded of some interesting literary references. First, Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilych" where we find a legal bureaucrat who distances himself from the common people who appear before him in his official capacity:
Ilych lived had a "separate fenced-off world of official duties . . . ."
Thinking about Delbert Ward, I'm reminded also of the isolated and reclusive, Boo Radley, who becomes the object of fascination of Jem and Scout Finch in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The locked-away outcast, Boo Radley befriends Scout and Jem and when Bob Ewell attacks the children on their way home from a school program, Boo saves their lives by killing Bob Ewell. Knowing the reclusive Boo Radley as they do, Sheriff Tate persuades Atticus Finch not to make Boo Radley's involvement public as it would, the sheriff tries to convince Atticus, destroy the man. The sheriff finally brings Atticus, reluctantly, to agree that it it would be a great wrong to push Boo Radley into the limelight by having him tried for killing Bob Ewell (assuming as we do that he would have a viable "defense of others" claim). Atticus has told the children that it's a sin to kill a mockingbird, and Scout recalls this, as a reason to protect Boo Radley from the harsh light of public exposure. Delbert Ward, in this case, is himself something of a mockingbird.
On the People vs. the Law
Logos, Lex, and
The Legal Profession [Lawyers for One America]
Medical Examiner: Autopsy