Monday, 27 February 2017
617 Murder in the First Degree
First viewed : 9 July 1983
This three part documentary was originally part of a longer documentary series called Circuit Eleven Miami , taking advantage of a decision by the State of Florida to allow its judicial proceedings to be filmed for a year. It was first shown at an ungodly hour on BBC2 in 1979 ; these repeats went out just after nine. Interestingly, it was screened just as the Commons were seriously debating the restoration of the death penalty for the last time.
The drama centred on the trial of a man called Thomas Perri who was accused of the murder by knife of an old man in revolting circumstances. The State's only witness was his apparent accomplice Stephen Weiss who had been promised a maximum sentence of fifteen years if he helped nail Perri and send him to the chair.
What struck me most was just what U.S. lawyers were able to get away with in court. The defence's entire strategy seemed to be to unnerve Weiss by constantly accusing him of being a sexual pervert. I seem to recall one of the questions was
"Did you say to Diane [Perri's wife ] "Diane you've got such a skinny body , how can you take that python that Tommy's got ?"
The prosecutors would then object, the judge would shout "Sustained ! " and then the defence lawyer would ask another question that was equally as abusive and irrelevant.
And this went on and on. Neither Perri nor Weiss, who were both clearly relishing the presence of the cameras, seemed fazed by the proceedings.
This was in the first episode and I felt grubby just watching it. I couldn't face any more of it. Googling reveals that Perri was found guilty but not whether he was subsequently executed .