There have been many Americans who have been accused and convicted of a crime they did not commit. These accusations and convictions have led to innocent Americans being incarcerated and sentenced to life in prison or even worse, death. The documentary film, A Thin Blue Line, reenacts the events that lead to the arrest and conviction of a drifter who was accused of murdering a Dallas police officer on a late November evening.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) released the documentary film, The Thin Blue Line, directed by Errol Morris in 1988. This film recreated the murder of Dallas policeman, Robert Wood. Officer Wood was shot and killed as he and his partner conducted a routine traffic stop on November 28, 1976. As Officer Wood approached the vehicle, he was shot five times. Randall Adams was arrested and convicted for the murder of Officer Wood. Randall Adams proclaimed his innocence from the day he was arrested and never waivered from his initial testimony. Randall Adams testified he ran out of gas and was picked up by a young boy, David Harris. Adams claimed he and Harris engaged in conversation, watched a movie at the drive in, drank, and smoked marijuana before parting ways at the hotel where he and his brother where staying. David Harris told a different story. His recall of events differed from Adams only in the fact that upon departing the drive in, they did not go directly to the hotel. Harris claims they were pulled over by a Dallas policeman for a minor traffic violation. He claimed when the officer approached the vehicle in which Adams was driving, he pulled a weapon and shot the officer at point blank range. Throughout the film, the friends of the convicts’, prosecutors, police officers, witnesses, defense attorneys, and the judge involved in the case provided their recollection of the case. Police officers who were interviewed claimed previous cases involving police officers being shot were solved within a small amount of time except for the Wood shooting. After a month, with very little leads, police were anxious to solve this crime. Friends of David Harris testified that he bragged only hours after the murder that he was the shooter. Police arrested Harris who indeed confessed the murder and even led them to the murder weapon but once he realized he was going to be arrested and thrown into jail changed his story and provided statements to the police that Randall Adams was the actual shooter.
After offering a reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction, eyewitnesses Emily and R.L. Miller, who were passed the scene of the traffic stop as officer Wood approached the suspect vehicle, provided a description of the vehicle driver to the police. Emily Miller claimed she was always into detective work and always tried to solve cases before the police. Although it was a dark night, Emily Miller testified she saw the driver of the vehicle and described him as having bushy, curly hair and a mustache. A co-worker of Emily Miller testified she overheard Emily Miller as saying she would say and do exactly as prosecutors wanted her to say or do for reward money.
Although Randall Adams had no previous criminal record and there was no evidence connecting him to the murder, he was tried and convicted to death for the murder of Officer Wood. Although David Harris had a criminal record and was caught driving the car involved in the murder, police largely used his testimony to convict Adams. It was noted during the film that a witness of the prosecution overhead the prosecutor state he was not willing to end a young man’s life. It was also noted Texas law would not sentence a youth to death. According to the defense attorney, Edith James, when the judge, Don Metcalfe was questioned about Adam’s possible innocence, he related “what do you care, he’s just a drifter.” Officer Wood’s partner, Teresa Turko failed to provide any details to assist with the case and police investigators speculated that she was inside the patrol car eating and drinking when her partner was shot. This was not only a violation of police procedure; it also prevented Turko from identifying the getaway vehicle’s correct model and make. This slowed the investigation down to a crawl, as precious time passed and potential witnesses who could have corroborated Adams’ and Harris’ whereabouts around the time of the shooting simply forgot. Dale Holt, the Dallas Police Internal Affairs investigator, stated “If you’re the investigator assigned to the murder, you get frustrated with the other witnesses, but when you got a police officer that witnessed it, you expect that they would know a little more than she knew.” Even worse, Turko’s testimony about the events and descriptions leading up to the murder changed over time as she was questioned and coached by Internal Affairs.
This film presented all the evidence to viewer in a fashion that would not slant the viewer’s opinion of the case. All facts were presented in such a way that allowed the facts to speak for themselves, giving the viewer the information they needed to determine the actual events of the murder. This film clearly demonstrated when criminal justice agencies want to convict an individual for a crime, evidence and testimony can be altered or forgotten all together to ensure the evidence points in the direction they want the case to proceed. I believe Dallas County wanted closure on this case and therefore convicted an innocent man of the murder of Officer Wood.
Morris, E. (Director). (1988) The Thin Blue Line [Motion Picture]. United States: Metro Goldwyn Mayer