Published Apr 26, 2014Before all of the madness surrounding O. J. Simpson, the advent of CourtTV and lurid trials regularly becoming media circuses, the seeds of frenzy were sown with the case of Pamela Smart back in 1990. In examining the evidence and the influence of having cameras in the courtroom for the very first time, Jeremiah Zagar's Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart makes an incisive and compelling argument that justice was not properly served.
As a young and attractive New Hampshire high school employee, Smart has admitted to sleeping with 15-year old student Billy Flynn. When Smart's husband was shot dead, though, she denied any involvement, while Flynn and his two teenage accomplices who committed the murder accepted plea deals and claimed that she was the mastermind. The trial was broadcast on television to engrossed audiences that found her guilty after barely even looking at the facts.
There are a lot of great interviews with those from both sides of the case, including lawyers, impartial scholars and Smart herself, but perhaps the most important voice heard is from one of the jurors from a cassette tape on which she recorded her thoughts as the trial was happening. She's perceptive and measured in her reasoning, grappling with all of the right questions before eventually making the decision that has landed Smart in prison for life without parole.
Assisted by clips from To Die For, which was inspired by Smart's story, and a TV movie from the time starring Helen Hunt, a salient point is made about how easy it can be to sell a narrative and alter perceptions when everyone involved is aware that people are watching. (Hard Working Movies)