“Unlocking the Truth” is part of a wave of true-crime shows like “Making a Murderer” and “Serial.”
Some believe the American justice system is the best money can buy.
And if you don’t have money, you are in for a world of hurt.
Ask Ryan Ferguson. The host of the new MTV docuseries “Unlocking the Truth” served 10 years in prison for the murder of a Missouri newspaper’s sports editor.
He was wrongly convicted, largely on the testimony of a friend who, in chilling video excerpts, was force-fed details about the crime by police determined to close the case.
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Joined by Eva Nagao, an investigator for the Exoneration Project, Ferguson, now 29, hopes to make something good come out of his lost decade by reopening cases in which others also might have been wrongfully convicted.
This isn’t “Catfish” with higher stakes; this is a podcast with visuals, a show that moves at a slower pace than the typical MTV series, allowing voices to be heard and evidence to accumulate.
The premiere and much of the second episode (11 p.m. Wednesdays) focus on the case of Michael Politte, who was only 14 when he was arrested in the slaying of his mother. She was bludgeoned and set on fire in their trailer home. (In a weird coincidence, Politte is serving time on the exact same cell block Ferguson once resided in and even knows some of the same inmates.)
In the second episode, Ferguson and Nagao continue their work on the Politte case but also look into the incarceration of Kalvin Michael Smith, who more than 20 years ago was convicted in the beating of a pregnant woman so brutal, it put her in a coma for 10 months and left her brain-damaged.
Several friends claimed Smith confessed to the crime. But at least one has recanted, saying she was forced by police. Ferguson and Nagao gather persuasive information that the victim had a mentally unbalanced stalker who was with her moments before the assault.
True-crime shows are having a moment. One of the subjects spotlighted in Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” had his conviction overturned last week. (Netflix is filming a second season on the case.) The podcast “Serial” made a nation of armchair sleuths in a case that raised questions about a man serving life for the murder of his ex-girlfriend.
Ferguson and Nagao make for unusual hosts. Nagao reveals that her interest in false incarceration stems from her family history: Her grandparents met in an World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans in California.
Ferguson is affable but reticent, though encounters here push him to relive parts of his own ordeal.
He estimates that at least 3 to 5 percent of all people sent to prison are innocent — which starts out at about 60,000 people in the United States serving time for crimes they did not commit. That should be horrifying to everyone.