Frontline knows how to shake things up in North Carolina. Last week, less than a month after the series aired Ofra Bikel’s 90-minute documentary “An Ordinary Crime,” about 21-year-old Terence Garner, a state court granted Garner’s motion for a new trial. He posted bond and went home with his mother and family for the first time in more than four years. Garner had been serving a sentence of 32-43 years for robbery and attempted murder—the “ordinary crime” he insisted all along he had no part of. Bikel—whose award-winning trilogy “Innocence Lost” led the state to drop charges in 1997 in a major child abuse case in Edenton, N.C.—again turned the spotlight on criminal justice in the state.
Four days before the May 27 airing of “Innocence Lost: The Plea,” Frontline’s third documentary on the Little Rascals child-abuse case in Edenton, N.C., the prosecutor announced she was dropping all remaining charges in the long and troubling legal action. For producer-director Ofra Bikel and her colleagues at Frontline, the decision brought a rare sense of gratification. Over the past seven years, Bikel’s persistent scrutiny of a prosecution she had come to believe was unjust has made a big difference in many people’s lives. Whether the effect has been for the better or the worse depends on how close you live to Edenton, and which side of the Little Rascals case you want to believe. “It’s not very often that a television program can set people free,” commented David Fanning, Frontline’s senior executive producer.