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Bentley Presents Documentary "Juror Number Six" by Professor Rachel Lyon

April 7, 2008

Bentley’s Dean of Arts & Sciences Lecture Series presents Lethal Injustice -- a compelling evening of film and discussion on Thursday, April 17 featuring two films by Bentley Professor and Emmy Award- winning director Rachel Lyon that examine the impact of the media on race, crime and punishment. Professor Lyon will present her films with Charles Ogletree, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard University, who narrated both films, and Race to Execution co-producer and media law specialist Jim Lopes in the Wilder Pavilion, Adamian Academic Center on the Bentley campus.

The new documentary short Juror Number Six examines how today’s 24/7 news culture creates a climate of around-the-clock crime coverage. Focusing on America’s obsession with crime, the film demonstrates how the O.J. Simpson trial launched dozens of new cable programs and personalities. It explores the ways this crime-soaked media, including television news, fictional dramas, rap and the Internet, generates a cycle of fear and injustice that continues to plague the criminal justice system.

The award-winning Race to Execution aired on PBS’ Independent Lens in March 2007 and offers a compelling investigation of America’s death penalty, probing how race bias infects our capital punishment system. The film traces the fates of two death row inmates – Robert Tarver in Russell County, Alabama and Madison Hobley in Chicago, Illinois. Their personal stories are enriched by testimonies from defense attorneys, prosecutors, criminal justice scholars and experts in the fields of law and media. These varied voices contribute to a thoughtful examination of the factors that influence who lives and who dies at the hands of the state.

While producing Race to Execution, it hit her, says filmmaker Rachel Lyon. As she chronicled the cases of two black defendants facing the death penalty, Lyon realized that the media’s role had fundamentally changed. Far from merely reporting objectively on such cases, she says, the media had become an active participant in the judicial process, with its incessant reporting on crime—and excessive focus on the race of criminal defendants—influencing juries and impacting sentences.

“It became clear that our ‘crime-media culture’ of TV news and television dramas such as 'CSI' and 'Law & Order' tends to present minorities as potentially dangerous criminals, while reinforcing perceptions that white, middle-class people are at great risk of being violently attacked by people of color,” Lyon says. “These misperceptions reverberate through our criminal justice system, where studies have shown that if a jury has five or more white male members, the defendant have a 70 percent chance of receiving the death penalty.”

The result of Lyon’s epiphany is Juror Number Six.

“Crime has been going down for years, and yet it gets reported five, six hundred percent more than it used to be because of the 24-hour news cycles and the need to feed that entertainment beast,” says Andrea Lyon, director of DePaul University’s Center for Justice in Capital Cases and sister to the filmmaker. “All the research shows that people who watch local television are more afraid of crime than people who don’t.”

Juror Number Six also examines the impact of one of the most infamous trials of the 20th century: the O.J. Simpson murder trial and created a national appetite for court-related media coverage.

“Before O.J. Simpson, there was no Greta Van Susteren of 'On the Record,'” says Charles Ogletree Jr., director of Harvard University’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. “Before O.J. Simpson, there was no Nancy Grace. Before O.J. Simpson, we didn’t have these programs that can around-the-clock cover crime and news the way that it does.”

Much of that crime coverage, observers say, disproportionately focuses on minorities. “Crimes that get covered the most are crimes in which the victim is white,” says Renee Ferguson, an investigative reporter for NBC 5 News in Chicago.

Juror Number Six is produced by Lioness Media Arts, Inc. The producer and director is Rachel Lyon. Funding for Juror Number Six was provided by The Ford Foundation and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.

Following the event, a book signing will be held for “From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America,” (The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Series on Race and Justice) by Charles J. Ogletree and Austin Sarat.

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit www.bentley.edu

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