MMT Quick Review of TRIAL 4

Sean Ellis in episode 1 (Chapter 1) of Trial Four. Cr. NETFLIX © 2020

TRIAL 4, the latest Netflix documentary premiering on November 11, depicts the (too familiar) journey of a man wrongfully incarcerated and caught up in an inherently corrupt system – this time for a 22-year period in the state of Massachusetts.

In 1993, Sean K. Ellis, then only 19 years old, was arrested and charged with the murder of Boston detective John Mulligan, a 27-year veteran of the force with a problemed history. The city of Boston tried Ellis three times – the first two juries were hung – until he was finally convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

“Trial 4” documents the 1993 murder through Sean’s fourth scheduled trial, and the results/aftermath that follows.

I must say that the first two episodes are tedious, because so much information is dispensed. But I was better engaged starting with episode three – when most of the main players have been described and the setup is better established.

The most enraging things about this documentary are the police, state and local officials who participate in prosecuting Ellis until a guilty verdict is handed down. And though we know these actions are not isolated, to see firsthand accounts and witness all the lives affected by their actions is heartbreaking nonetheless.

It was also disheartening to read the list, that appears at the end of each of the eight one-hour episodes, of people who refused to participate or interview for the documentary – knowing even though (slight spoiler) Sean is free, there’s been a great price paid with how it occurred and arguably Mulligan’s murder has yet to be solved.

Yet, a highlight of the film is watching the 2018 campaign efforts and victory of Rachael Rollins – the first woman and first woman of color District Attorney in the state of Massachusetts (Suffolk County, which includes Boston) – and her campaign’s resulting impact on Ellis’s case.

All in all, director Rémy Burkel’s (“Sin City Law”) “Trial 4” is a bittersweet depiction of Mr. Ellis’s fight to obtain justice against all odds, and the political obstacles that prevented his physical freedom for almost 22 years. Initially overwhelming in its pacing, the series slows and allows the viewer to engage and root for Ellis’s victory, while empathizing with his burden and celebrating each milestone towards his release.

I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.

TRIAL 4 will premiere November 11 on Netflix.

Until next thought, Thomasena 

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