The Past is Never Dead

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


A morally complex documentary about the wrongful conviction of David Robinson and his 17-year struggle to prove his innocence.


THE PAST IS NEVER DEAD is an emotional and morally complex documentary about wrongful convictions and the systemic flaws of jailhouse testimony. David Robinson's 17-year struggle to prove his innocence, and his freestanding claim of actual innocence, is national in scope and can set U.S. legal precedent on habeas corpus and due process. His case is now before the Missouri Supreme Court.

David was arrested for murdering a white woman in the fall of 2000, and with testimony from two suspect criminal informants he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. There was no evidence, DNA, or confession, and he had an alibi. As the years passed, the informants recanted under oath, claiming police coercion, and the true killer confessed on audiotape and committed suicide. Yet David is still in prison. The film presents the judicial system through the lens of Sikeston, Missouri, a small, racially divided southern cotton town near the Mississippi River in Southeast Missouri.


The idea that an obviously innocent person—who can prove his innocence—can be kept in jail for life is why THE PAST IS NEVER DEAD exists.

The commitment to make the film came after an embarrassing moment during the first meeting with David’s pro bono lawyers. I had read, thoroughly, the State’s argument for denial, but since it was not making any sense, I felt I must have misunderstood. They laughed and said that I understood it completely. They told me that innocence, by itself, is maybe the hardest case to make for exoneration, and not because of the difficultly in proving absolute innocence, but that once someone has been “fairly” convicted by a jury, changes (recantations) during post-conviction testimony are usually discounted by judges. Liars lie, especially snitches and jailhouse informants, and once proven as liars, their recanted testimony is suspect. Thus judges default to the original jury decision.

So here was a phrase I’d never heard before: “A freestanding claim to actual innocence.” The perceived issue in granting exoneration under this claim is that it admits the jury trial system has systemic flaws, and it admits that the system of police snitches and informants has systemic flaws.

However, it seems to me that by keeping someone in prison who can prove his innocence, like David, admits to a lack of concern for a civil society.

During production--from the first interview, I realized the camera should be subtle and calm, and that those before the camera needed breathing room to explain their years of hurt and pain; their intense emotions told so much more than the answers to my questions. I quickly understood there would be no narration, and that I, the intrusive filmmaker, should play no part in the story. The film shines a bright light on the meaning of innocence and unfairness, but it might be the reflective eyes of these characters that demand action.


Steve E. Turner - Producer/Director/DP

Steve has been a full-time freelance director and cinematographer of regional and national TV commercials for the past 13 years. Before entering the film industry he spent many years in management with Barnes & Noble, Inc.

But here’s the real deal … Steve has both landed and jumped out of a plane, water-skied down the middle of the Mississippi River (not recommended), been naked in two different stage plays (recommended), can ride a bicycle 100 miles at one go, and has been knocked unconscious four times. He’s never caused a car accident or broken a bone, but he’s had a stupid number of speeding tickets. He’s been desperately lost in Mexico and Venezuela; and while he wishes he loved the big city enough to live there, he’d rather spend his free time inside a book on his country porch…. Oh, and he’s written a novella that won no acclaim.


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