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“The Innocent Man,” based on a highly-popular Netflix documentary series and book by New York Times bestselling author John Grisham, was the focus as East Central University conducted Law Day on March 27.

The six-part documentary series explored the events involved in the 1982 murder of Debbie Sue Carter and the 1984 disappearance and murder of Donna Denice Haraway, along with the convictions which resulted in the exoneration of two individuals over a decade later based on DNA evidence.

Law Day is an annual event conducted by ECU’s Department of Politics, Law and Society to enhance ECU students’ understanding and learning about law through panel discussions, along with one-on-one and small-group interactions with law professionals. The popularity of the documentary series led to a standing room only crowd.

The main session, entitled “The Making of a Documentary,” featured panelists Christy Sheppard, a victim rights advocate; Dawn Teal, a retired district court reporter; Judge Tom Landrith and Judge George Butner, all of whom were interviewed in the documentary series.

Teal discussed the emotional task of her court reporting chores during the trial as well as having the additional duty of storing the critical evidence. Sheppard talked about the importance of the victims and their families not being forgotten. Landrith stressed the importance of Ada and Pontotoc County not being labeled for some of the missteps which occurred during the events.

“I wouldn’t be here today if I believed that kind of stuff still went on,” Landrith said.

Law Day 2019 kicked off with a Career and Graduate/Law School Advice Session involving the ECU Legal Studies and Political Science Alumni. Other activities throughout the day included “Victim Advocacy and Criminal Justice Reform Issues,” presented by Sheppard and “Serious Crimes: The Intersection of State and Federal Law” by Appellate Attorney Mark Barrett, who represented Ron Williamson during the Carter murder trial.

The four panelists also talked about the media attention paid to the events and when and how they were interviewed for the documentary series.

For more information on ECU’s Legal Studies program contact Dr. Jenna Owens, associate professor and director of ECU’s Legal Studies Program, at 580-559-5603.


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