Synopsis: When the curtain rose on the murder trial of Pamela Smart murder case 23 years ago, the stage was set for the birth of reality TV. Accused of plotting the 1990 murder of her husband Gregory, the 22-year-old Smart was subsequently convicted in the first fully televised, gavel-to-gavel court case, which has inspired TV shows, books, plays and feature films.
An official selection of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, CAPTIVATED: THE TRIALS OF PAMELA SMART explores how the media coverage of the case may have influenced the trial and sentencing. Featuring an exclusive new interview with Smart herself, as well as interviews with prosecuting and defending attorneys, journalists who covered the case, childhood friends, former inmates who served time with her, and, in the first interview since his release, one of the boys convicted with her.
Pamela Smart worked in the media center of a New Hampshire high school, where she became romantically involved with student Billy Flynn. On May 1, 1990, Flynn and three teenage friends – Patrick Randall, J.R. (Vance) Lattime and Raymond Fowler – went to the couple’s condo and murdered Smart’s husband. The four young men later reached a plea agreement with the state for a lower sentence in exchange for their testimony against Smart.
In New Hampshire, the trial had higher ratings than afternoon soap operas. Local journalist Erin Joyce calls the case “a tale for the ages,” explaining how it is, “the classic tale of the seductress who seduces these innocent young boys.” In a clip from a 1990 installment of “Geraldo,” the talk-show host asks, “Isn’t this trial by television?” New York Law School’s Richard Sherwin, an expert on visual perception in litigation, explains that the archetypal tale of the downfall of a beautiful woman created a “very powerful” storyline that enthralled the public.
"Captivated" explores how the media may have influenced both the public and the jurors, who were not sequestered. In addition to a trove of archival footage, it features audiotapes recorded after each day’s proceedings by a juror who expresses concerns about the proceedings. The film also revisits other aspects of the trial, including the media profile of key prosecution witness Cecelia Pierce, who had been Smart’s intern. Wired and coached to compel Smart to talk about the murder, Pierce recorded controversial audiotapes that the prosecution used to help convict Smart.
Journalist Joyce Maynard’s book “To Die For” was inspired by the case and adapted for the feature film of the same name starring Nicole Kidman. Joyce Chopra, who directed a TV movie starring Helen Hunt as Smart, recalls how the story was such an “easy sell for television.”
After a 14-day trial, Smart was convicted and is now serving life without parole in the Bedford Correctional Facility in New York for being an accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering. Each of the young men involved in the case received lesser sentences. Lattime and Fowler have been released and Flynn and Randall are up for parole in 2015.
HBO Documentary Films presents a Hard Working Movies Production; directed by Jeremiah Zagar; produced by Lori Cheatle; co-produced by Gabriel Sedgwick; original music by Zoe Keating; edited by Keiko Deguchi; director of photography, Naiti Gámez. For Passion Pictures: executive producers, John Battsek, Nicole Stott, Andrew Ruhemann. For Sky Atlantic: executive producers, Celia Taylor, Siobhan Mulholland. For HBO: senior producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
It premiered on HBO on Monday, August 18th, 2014.