Much respect to Gideon’s Promise warrior Anna Kurien of the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office, who after attending a workshop we gave on how public defenders can make social biography videos to reduce sentences, took the plunge and tried one for the sake of her client. Anna is a profoundly committed advocate, and we had great conversations when she would call to get feedback on interviews and production, and she spent weekends getting footage with her client and family. Read her story to see her remarkable results!
My 41 year client faced a charge that carried a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison with no possibility of parole. Given my review of the case, I knew that I had to put all my energy towards mitigation and hope for a miracle. After attending the Gideon’s Promise training on social biography videos conducted by Raj from De-Bug’s ACJP, I knew this was a compelling case for mitigation and that a social biography video would humanize my client to the State.
After hours of attorney-client conversations and meeting with our office social worker, we developed the main points we wanted to communicate through the video.
I made the social biography video and requested a meeting with the ADA’s boss, the DA of Fulton County. For the video, my investigator and I interviewed LM’s fiancée of 17 years, her 15 year old daughter, her supervisor at work and a childhood friend. It was challenging teaching myself how to use the software and it was even harder to edit the video down to 5 minutes. Although I had never made a video before, much less a social biography video, I received technical assistance by calling up De-Bug/ACJP and they walked me through the various stages, including the talking through the questions for interview subjects.
Knowing my client and her family, I was attached to the stories and found it hard to eliminate any of the footage because it wasn’t footage to me, it was hours of people my client loved telling me about their relationship to her. Sitting in my client’s house, listening to her family, looking at family pictures on the mantelpiece and listening to her daughter in her bedroom re-energized and inspired me to fight harder for my client. Her daughter had pasted letters from her mother on her bedroom wall, letters that my client had written to her while she was in prison. We took some photos of the letters and eventually used them in the video with her daughter’s voice speaking over the images of the letters.
We also interviewed the victim’s mother and grandmother. They spoke to us for over an hour and filled in many details about my client’s life and also expressed that they forgave my client and did not want her to go prison. As Christians, they said that they wished for my client to get the help that she so desperately needed.
The DA finally agreed to meet with me. In preparation for that meeting, my client and I spent hours talking about her childhood and her life growing up. I would not have known to have this in-depth conversation about my client’s personal life early in my career. The violence she had endured made me realize anew that she needed help and therapy and not prison.
After my meeting with the DA, he agreed to reduce the charges that would bring it down to a 3 year sentence. Because of the video, she was no longer an anonymous person whose fate he was deciding. The video humanized her, and her family and I think he couldn’t help but be affected by it. This amazing result would not have been possible with the skills taught to me by Gideon’s Promise and Raj from De-Bug/ACJP on how to make a social biography video, how to get to know our clients and their lives on a deeper level and how to never give up even when facing 25 year mandatory minimums and no real defense at trial. My client told me that when she knew she would be assigned a random public defender, she prayed for a miracle and that I was her miracle. I know that Gideon’s Promise and the skills I developed through the assistance of De-Bug/ACJP have been the real miracle in our client’s lives, and in mine too.
(Since the time of this article, Anna has produced another social biography video, cutting a 10 year sentence in half for another client.)