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David McCallum, seen here in an image taken from the film David & Me, was convicted based on a videotaped admission experts say contain red flags.
David McCallum, seen here in an image taken from the film David & Me, was convicted based on a videotaped admission experts say contain red flags.

Documentary film seeks to exonerate imprisoned Brooklyn man Add to ...

It was Rubin (Hurricane) Carter’s dying wish.

Before he died in Toronto in April, the former boxer and internationally regarded advocate for the wrongly convicted wrote a letter to the New York Daily News, pleading with authorities in Brooklyn to release David McCallum.

Mr. McCallum had been wrongly jailed for murder since 1985, Mr. Carter wrote during his final bout with prostate cancer. It was the same year Hurricane himself walked free, after 19 years in jail for a triple murder he said he did not commit.

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Mr. McCallum is still in prison. But a special conviction review unit set up by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office is taking another look at his case. And his story is the subject of a documentary by two first-time Canadian filmmakers who say they have uncovered new evidence that could help make Mr. Carter’s last request come to pass.

The heart-wrenching film, entitled David & Me, will be broadcast for the first time on TVO on June 4 at 9 p.m. and midnight, and will be available afterward at tvo.org. It premiered at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival just a week after Mr. Carter died.

The film, by Toronto-raised Ray Klonsky and his Montreal-based co-director Marc Lamy, shows the surprising friendship between Mr. Klonsky, 29, and Mr. McCallum, who at 44 has been in prison since he was 16 years old.

It also follows the two filmmakers, Mr. McCallum’s lawyer and a private investigator as they knock on doors in rough neighbourhoods looking for evidence to exonerate Mr. McCallum.

“Luckily, we started this film when we were rather young. We were in our early 20s, and with youth comes a little bit of ignorance,” said Mr. Lamy, 30, who studied film with Mr. Klonsky at Concordia University. “That was a bit of an edge to push us into some neighbourhoods that we shouldn’t have been into.”

How Mr. Klonsky, who is now based in New York, got to know Mr. McCallum is a story in itself. His father, Ken Klonsky, who also appears in the film, is a writer who worked with Mr. Carter and co-authored his last book, Eye of The Hurricane. Mr. McCallum first contacted Ken several years ago about an article he had written about Mr. Carter, looking for help with his own case.

And while Ray Klonsky was acting up as a teenager, his father arranged for him to exchange letters and eventually meet with Mr. McCallum, whom he now describes as the older brother he never had.

“He is soft-spoken, but beneath that there is incredible strength,” he says of Mr. McCallum. “… Not only is he not angry, but he is genuinely interested in other people and other people’s lives.”

Both the crime and Mr. McCallum’s conviction for it are harrowing. One day in October, 1985, two black teenagers shoved a 20-year-old white man into his car outside Queens, N.Y. and drove off with him. His body was later found in a Brooklyn park, with a bullet wound to the back of the head.

The film puts the conviction of Mr. McCallum and another teenager, William Stuckey, who died in prison in 2001, in the context of the crack-fuelled crime wave of the 1980s that overwhelmed Brooklyn law enforcement and spawned dozens of allegedly wrongful convictions now under investigation.

Arrested when he was just 16, Mr. McCallum says he was forced by police to confess. As Mr. McCallum recounts in the film, a police detective tells him Mr. Stuckey has just fingered him for the crime, and then slaps him and threateningly picks up a chair.

The chilling videotaped admissions that resulted – a novelty for juries at that time – include many of the red flags experts say denote a false confession. For example, Mr. Stuckey’s confession appears to include a fact fed to him by police that later turned out not to be true. And in the pre-DNA era, there was no other evidence linking the pair to the crime – not even a fingerprint.

One of the leads the filmmakers pursue in the film has since turned up a man who says he was interrogated four times by police about the killing – a fact never released by police at the time but one that the filmmakers hope might help get Mr. McCallum’s case reopened.

One of Mr. McCallum’s lawyers is even pushing to have Mr. McCallum out before the film is screened at the Manhattan Film Festival on June 20, Mr. Klonsky said, although whether this is even possible is unclear.

“We’re hoping that by the early summer, we have our final chapter of our story,” Mr. Klonsky said. “And we can then show it to the world recut with the ending that we’ve all been waiting for.”

 

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