Scott Lewis of New Haven spent 19 years in prison for a double murder he didn't commit. For two decades Lewis worked to prove his innocence. He won his release in 2014, and all charges were dropped. And then the struggle to rebuild his family and get justice from the city began.
Lewis' story is the subject of a new documentary that will debut this weekend. It's called "120 Years." Scott Lewis recently spoke with WSHU's Bill Buchner and the documentary team: Director Matt Nadel, Co-Creator and Director of Photography Lukas Cox, and Producer Keera Annamaneni. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Mr. Lewis, let’s begin with you. Your arrest and conviction were centered on a corrupt city detective, evidence that had been withheld, and a police chief who failed to discipline his officers. Would you tell us about your case?
LEWIS: In a nutshell, things that were going on in the city of New Haven, in that the officers and detectives were allowed to do to people like myself were going unchecked and unsupervised by local officials. And as a result of that, I lost 19 years of my life. And that is the product of this film.
And how did you end up making a documentary?
LEWIS: I think I’ll let Keera answer that question.
ANNAMANENI: Absolutely. Basically I was reading the New Haven Register and came across an article saying some man, Scott Lewis, won almost $10 million in a lawsuit. And I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that’s interesting. Where is New Haven going to come up with this money?’ That was my first angle. Then I thought, ‘Ok, this article doesn’t encompass everything that needs to be heard.’ So I emailed Scott Lewis, not expecting anything of it, saying, ‘I’d like to chat with you. I think a film can come out of your story.’ He emails me back within 20 minutes saying, ‘I’m in.’ That was about a year ago, and for the last year the three of us have been working very closely with Scott to produce this film.
Mr. Scott, in the film you say you told yourself that you weren’t in prison, you were at work. What did you mean by that?
LEWIS: Well, I found myself fighting for my life. I realized I didn’t want to die, so I said the only way I was really going to stay alive is to just work at being free. So that became my full-time job.
Stefon Morant was also arrested and convicted of the crime along with you. Is he part of the documentary?
LEWIS: Yes, Matt can speak to that.
NADEL: Sure. So this documentary centers around Scott Lewis’ story of course but any conversation about that story would be incomplete without Stefon. So he is a part of the documentary. His has, in terms of its progress, it’s in a bit of a different place than Scott’s. So Stefon certainly plays a critical role in the film in terms of the way we look at wrongful conviction. The way we see Scott’s case as one potential outcome and Stefon’s as maybe a different one.
Along with the documentary, Mr. Lewis, what other work are you doing?
LEWIS: Well, I’m currently a real estate broker. I have two offices here in Connecticut. One located in Avon and the other located in Wallingford. And I just decided you know what, prior to this happening to me, I was transforming into the real estate career as a young 23-year old. So after finishing the job of winning my freedom, it was the next best thing to do. It was something I knew. It was something I was still passionate about. Because I wanted to find a way to touch people’s lives in a positive way. That was my outlet and figured hey pick up where you left off. Don’t let the previous 20 years or 19 years define who I’m destined to become. So I’m still working towards that aim.
Twenty years of your life taken away. Are you angry?
COX: Oh man. I can’t answer whether or not Scott is angry. I will say one thing that we were so amazed by working with Scott is his remarkable ability to forgive. To let the past be and to move on with his life. Almost to a crazy extent. Matt and I, when we were editing this film we kept saying to ourselves, ‘He has reason to be very, very angry.’ Not the least of which at the officer who framed you, Scott, but also the whole police apparatus that allowed you to stay in jail for so long wrongfully. But obviously, Scott, I’m sure you can speak to that more than I can.
LEWIS: Yeah, let me add to that. You know a lot of people that I sit and talk with about this particular story, that’s one of the things they harp on, ‘How can you not be so angry?’ And just seeing people going through challenging situations in their lives and becoming angry about it, I came to the conclusion that it really does no good for me to be angry because I have to work through it. The fact that I’m angry and staying stuck in anger isn’t going to get me where I need to be or where I want to go so I kind of channeled that anger into more of an emotion of determination. To win my freedom. To get justice. And l continue to want to live and to touch people’s lives in a different type of way.
Lukas, why did you call the film "120 Years?"
COX: That’s a great question. The film’s title refers to Scott’s original sentence which was a life sentence for 120 years. And as we kinda tell it in the film, one of the craziest parts and one of the reasons why we called it this was that the original sentence was actually 240 years. So it was an illegal sentence that a court had to overturn and get it down to 120 years. So even though that seems like a semantic difference, as Scott has related to us, the feeling of getting your timesheet every six months and seeing your release eligibility date is 2100. For us, that title captured just how monumental of a sentence that was and how it’s all of your life but it’s all and more. It’s 120 years and so we thought that was the best way to do it.
Mr. Lewis, what impact do you hope the film will have on viewers?
LEWIS: Wow. My hope is that people will hold authorities that are in charge of public safety accountable when they actually put the public at risk. What I mean by that is, if you put two people in jail for crimes that you know they didn’t commit and what I mean is that we were intentionally framed. So it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or human error. This was an intentional act by a corrupt police officer that authorities came to realize were intentional acts but yet they chose not to do anything about it. So in my opinion that puts the public at risk. So it’s not just about a wrongful conviction, but it’s more about public safety on a larger level. So I think that people need to become keenly aware of that. This isn’t just somebody who went to jail for 20 years, but this is also a situation where the police allowed the true perpetrators to remain in public society for 20-something years, and still refused to kinda pursue the true perpetrators. So public safety is a big issue. And I think people need to put that type of pressure on people in charge to look at wrongful convictions as public safety matters.
"120 Years" premieres Saturday in New Haven. Watch the trailer now: