On the night John Stoll was roused from his bed and carted off to jail, his attitude bordered on the cavalier.
"Aren't you worried?" His lawyer wondered.
"Hell no, I ain't worried," John answered. "I didn't do this. You can't convict me of something I didn't do."
It was more than two decades before John Stoll was free again.
Executive Producer Sean Penn proudly presents Witch Hunt, a gripping indictment of the United States justice system told through the lens of one small town. It's John Stoll's story, but also the story of dozens of other men and women ensnared in a spiral of fear, ignorance and hysteria. These people are Americans, working class moms and dads, rounded up with little or no evidence, charged and convicted of almost unimaginable crimes. All sexual. All crimes against children. Years, sometimes decades later, they would find freedom again, but their lives and those of their children would be changed forever. This film shows viewers what the real crime in this case is: not molestation, but the crime of coercion. Viewers hear from child witnesses forced to lie on the witness stand as they describe scary sessions with sheriff's deputies in which they were told -- not asked -- about sexual experiences that happened to them. Their coerced testimony led to dozens of convictions. Many times, their own parents were the ones they put behind bars.
Soon after the trials, the children started to crack. They told adults of the lies they'd been forced to tell on the stand and hoped it would make a difference. It didn't, and the unjustly convicted continued to rot in prison. As the allegations grew more outlandish, California's Attorney General wrote a scathing report on the court misconduct, but instead of being buried by criticism, Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels thrived, doing what he did best -- putting people away. He boasted one of the highest conviction rates in the country. This strategy served him well. Jagels is still in office today. Through new interviews, archival footage, and unflinching narration by Mr. Penn, the filmmakers construct an intimate film that illustrates a universal point; when power is allowed to exist without oversight from the press, the community, or law enforcement, rights of everyday citizens can be lost for decades. National film critic Marshall Fine says "This is a chilling story about American law-enforcement run amok and untethered. ....A movie that can't help but move you -- to tears and to action."
This documentary is a warning about how public hysteria, fed by power-hungry politicians, can destroy lives of the innocent. It is a haunting tale of big government run amok. 91 minutes. Our strongest recommendation.
DVD Special Features Includes:
Follow-Up Interview with Exoneree, John Stoll
Follow-Up Interview with Kathleen "Cookie" Ridolfi, Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project
Follow-Up Interview with Filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy
Q&A from the World Premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival
"Living the Dream," a Documentary Short Film Directed by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy
**A portion of the proceeds of every DVD sold will go towards the Northern California Innocence Project**