In the year Donald Trump was elected as president and against a backdrop of social unrest across America, our cameras follow prosecutors and cops in Jacksonville, the ‘murder capital’ of Florida, renowned for its tough approach to justice.
Part 1: Punishment
Across town, detectives are called to the scene of a double homicide in a trailer park. An uncle and niece have been found strangled in their home. As detectives hunt down their main suspect, the lead prosecutor Janeen Kirch has to decide if the crime is severe enough to deserve the ultimate punishment of death.
In the courts, Trey Wright is being prosecuted for the murder of his cousin – even though he was killed by someone else. The prosecution’s case is that Trey was committing a robbery when his cousin was killed, so he must pay the price for his death. But Trey has his own version of events – when he takes to the stand, who will the jury believe?
Controversial state attorney Angela Corey has gained a reputation as one of the harshest prosecutors in America. As she is campaigning for re-election, protests against the death penalty hit the streets. Will the people of Jacksonville decide they want something different from their justice system?
Part 2: Witness
Arriving at the scene of a mass shooting in one the city’s most dangerous apartment complexes – Eureka Gardens – homicide detectives find three gunmen have fired more than fifty rounds at a group of ten people, including a baby, leaving one woman in a critical condition. Despite numerous witnesses, nobody will talk to the police for fear of retribution. Filled with frustration but determined to catch the triggermen, detectives knock on doors in the sweltering heat hoping somebody breaks.
This tension is mirrored in the courtroom at the trial of Lenard Anderson, who is accused of shooting another black man in a strip club. Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi battles with the attitude that ‘snitches get stitches’ and nobody talks to the police. Despite there being more than 300 possible witnesses, it has taken over three years to persuade anyone to testify in court. Will jurors believe the testimony of the victim’s friends despite their criminal records?
Then relations between the black community and law enforcement take a turn for the worse when Vernell Bing, a 22-year-old black man, is fatally shot by a police officer. Fleeing from the scene of a crime, Vernell crashes head on into the officer’s car during a high-speed chase and is shot in the head. Despite the sheriff’s office promising a thorough investigation, Jacksonville’s streets start to fill with protesters.
Part 3: Reckoning
The courts face their toughest test – how to deal with children who kill. When he was 12 years old, Sharron Townsend was arrested for shooting a homeless man in the head. Now 14, he is facing justice. In Florida, children can be transferred to adult courts at the discretion of the state attorney, so there is no upper limit on Sharron’s sentence. How will the judge decide his fate?
Sharron isn’t the only teenage killer in the Jacksonville justice system. Jeremiah Hill shot a man during a gun trade when he was 13 years old. Now the justice system must decide how best to protect society.
Child crime is the key battleground in the election race to be Jacksonville’s next state attorney. As voters go to the polls, will they choose to stick with incumbent Angela Corey’s tough approach or vote for change through challenger Melissa Nelson?