Dateline’s Slepian discusses his investigations of wrongful convictions
By Korinne Utting
Every week, Dan Slepian gets voicemails from dozens of crying mothers.
“Bring my baby home,” they plead.
Slepian, a producer for “Dateline NBC,” is consumed by the task of solving cases of prisoners who claim they were incarcerated by mistake.
“It’s just something I can’t turn away from,” he said.
If his work is any indication, Slepian hasn’t shied away from the harsh realities of wrongful convictions, as attendees learned at Slepian’s recent My Life As Speaker Series presentation.
At the Oct. 6 lecture in the Stony Brook University Student Activities Center Auditorium, Slepian, a Stony Brook alumnus, shared stories and videos from cases he has reported on. Each prisoner he talked to would lead him to the next, which is how he met Eric Glisson, one of several men falsely accused of murdering a cab driver in 1995. Glisson’s daughter was just a week old when he was incarcerated. When he was released and exonerated, she was eighteen.
“People don’t think about the family,” Glisson said.
Glisson was sent to prison because of the eyewitness testimony of one woman, who, according to Slepian, was a heroin addict and prostitute. Gazing out her bathroom window, the woman claimed to have seen a group of men running away from the scene of the murder.
When Slepian looked through that same window, he saw the woman’s view was obstructed. This was a step the police investigating the case never took.
“I don’t have that much faith, personally, knowing what I know,” Slepian said about the criminal justice system.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, the number of prisoners being freed each year is increasing. So far, 114 people have been exonerated this year, compared to just 22 exonerations in 1989. In total, from 1989 to 2016, 1,896 people have been exonerated.
Peter Cross, the attorney who represented Glisson, gained a newfound respect for journalists like Slepian.
“Future journalists can really make a difference in the lives of people,” Cross said. “The media is really what can hold the system to speak to the fire.”
Since Glisson’s exoneration, Cross has taken on four additional wrongful conviction cases. Just like they do with Slepian, desperate family members reach out to Cross, and beg him to help their loved ones who are stuck behind bars.
“I really think it’s an epidemic,” Slepian said.
Similar to Cross, Michael Torres, a sophomore, biology major at Stony Brook University, appreciates the work of journalists who help wrongfully incarcerated prisoners.
“It’s something that many people don’t really look at,” Torres said. “Nobody tries to [get] to the bottom of what happened.”
Slepian’s response to being viewed by many as a hero is quite simple.
“How can you not fight for the truth?”
All photos by Kevin Urgiles