SOURCE: FRONTLINE

June 13, 2005 07:30 ET

FRONTLINE Producer Credited With Freeing 13th Inmate

Parole Board Watches "The Plea" and Frees Convicted Murderer Patsy Kelly Jarrett

BOSTON, MA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- June 13, 2005 -- After serving twenty-eight years for a crime she steadfastly denies she committed, convicted murderer Patsy Kelly Jarrett will walk free from New York's Bedford Hills Prison on Monday, June 13, due in large part to the illuminating investigation of FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel. Jarrett is the second person profiled in the 2004 documentary "The Plea" to be released, and the thirteenth person profiled by Bikel in a FRONTLINE film to gain freedom since 1991.

Jarrett was accused along with a male friend of the 1973 murder of seventeen-year-old Paul David Hatch during an armed robbery of a gas station in Sherrill, New York, a small town outside of Utica. While the evidence against her co-defendant was strong, there was little to link Jarrett to the crime.

The case, like the others reported in "The Plea," exposed the limitations of a criminal justice system that relies on plea bargains to determine the outcome of 95 percent of all of its cases. Jarrett was twice offered the chance for a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea: once during her initial trial in 1977, when prosecutors offered to drop the charge to robbery with a sentence of five-to-fifteen years; then again twelve years later when the state offered to reduce her sentence to time already served and release her. In both instances, Jarrett refused to admit her guilt.

"It's just morally wrong to say you did something you know in your heart you didn't do," Jarrett told FRONTLINE in the 2004 documentary. "I might have walked free physically, but in my spirit and in my soul, I would have had to have lived with that the rest of my life. And I couldn't live with me like that."

During a March 2005 review of the case, the members of the New York Parole Board watched Bikel's account of Jarrett's story. According to Jarrett's attorney, Georgetown professor Abbe Smith, "Prison officials said there is no doubt the film had a positive affect on the way the board approached Kelly's case and in their favorable decision."

Jarrett is just one of a long list of inmates freed as a result of Bikel's work. In addition to Charles Gampero, Jr., who was released in November 2004 after the parole board watched his story in "The Plea," Bikel is credited with the exoneration of all seven defendants in the Little Rascals Day Care sexual abuse trial profiled in her "Innocence Lost" trilogy (1991, 1993, 1997); three longtime inmates, some on death row, who finally won the right to DNA testing ten months after being profiled in "The Case for Innocence" (2000); and Terence Garner, a twenty-one-year-old inmate serving a 34- to 43-year-sentence for an armed robbery and shooting he insisted he did not commit in "An Ordinary Crime" (2002).

The recipient of nearly every broadcast journalism award -- including Emmy Awards, duPont-Columbia Silver Batons, and a duPont-Columbia Gold Baton -- as well as the Champion of Justice Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Bikel is most gratified when her work produces these kinds of results.

"On my walls I have quite a few awards hanging, but the ones I really cherish are a few which say something like, 'Thank you for bringing my story to the world. Without your efforts I would not have gained my freedom,'" says Bikel.

For more on Jarrett's case or to watch full-length streaming video of more than fifty FRONTLINE films including Bikel's "The Plea" (2004), "Burden of Innocence" (2003), and "An Ordinary Crime" (2002) visit http://www.pbs.org/frontline/.

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