Imagine being picked up off the street, told you have committed a murder you know nothing about and then finding yourself sentenced to 20 years in jail...In the compelling new PBS documentary Presumed Guilty, Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete gain unprecedented camera access to the Mexican court system as they work to free Toño Zúñiga, a 31-year old man wrongly imprisoned in Mexico City in 2005.
The most poignant segment sees Zúñiga - allowed by Mexican trial law - questioning the witnesses against him from three feet away through a barred window. The exchanges are fascinating to watch and they reveal unexpected results.
The arresting officer is visibly uncomfortable standing in front of the man he sent to prison for 20 years without evidence. His shoulders droop, his head hangs low and he refuses to make eye contact with the prisoner. His face grows beet red, accentuating his alcoholically puffy nose and cheeks. The judge must repeatedly remind him:
"Don't speak to me, speak to him, this is supposed to be a face-to-face."The primary witness against Zúñiga - cousin to the murdered young man - appears close to tears as Zúñiga asks him to finally tell the truth, explaining that he indeed passed a gunshot residue test immediately after the murder.
"I did not know you passed [the test]" the cousin says. After a long, emotionally charged pause he tells the court and the camera "I did not see who fired the gun."Unfortunately, his statement was not recorded into the official court record. Why not? You'll have to watch the show to find out.