Investigation Discovery exposes the injustices of the juvenile criminal justice system through the tragedy of one single family in the documentary premiere of “The Witmans” directed by Academy-award nominee David Petersen.
In 1998, 13-year-old Greg Witman stepped off the school bus and 11 minutes later, Greg’s older brother Zach frantically called 911 to report that he had found Greg lying in a pool of blood. 15-year-old Zach went into shock – and then into custody as the police’s only lead. What followed Greg’s murder is a harrowing decades-long journey of one family trapped at the cruel intersection of small-town panic, a media frenzy, and a fractured criminal justice system.
The United States is the only country that allows juveniles to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, which is exactly what happened in 2002 to Zach Witman, after he served nearly five years on house arrest before his trial and subsequent conviction.
Now, after more than five years in the making, the documentary The Witmans, told intimately through the eyes of two parents on a 20-year odyssey to free their last surviving child, premieres on Investigation Discovery on Tuesday, December 1 from 9-11pm ET/PT.
Despite a faulty investigation, only circumstantial evidence, and no motive for murder, Zach was tried as an adult and found guilty, sentenced to life in prison without parole. Despite newly uncovered evidence that might have exonerated him, after 21 years of appeals, reversals, and professions of innocence, Zach Witman took a plea bargain in 2018 and was finally released from prison in May 2019. His release was a direct result of landmark Supreme Court ruling that declared sentencing a child to a mandatory sentence of life without parole was unconstitutional. With expert insight from Bryan Stevenson, the civil rights lawyer who argued the case and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, this two-hour documentary explores impact of youth incarceration, taking into consideration issues of race and affluence, geography and history.
Zach Witman is the canary in the coal mine for other children in America suffering under the justice system, proving how tragic it is for every child in this country, and The Witmans takes viewers on an intimate exploration of the limitations and principles of presumed innocence and a fair trial. The filmmaking team was granted extraordinary access by the family to their story, offering viewers an insight into the case never-before-revealed in the sensational press that followed the case for 20 years.