Trial 4 documents the conviction and release of Sean K. Ellis, a man charged with the murder of Boston Detective John Mulligan by execution via handgun. A man that served 22 years in prison. This comprehensive documentary series brings forth his trials and the story of how he was released.
We are once again an audience to another horrific and alarming injustice. This is a series that has many, many layers and one that armchair detectives will spend nights trying to unravel and make sense of. Netflix continues to provide us with these in-depth series on the USA judicial system and how it frequently lets down its citizens.
If you’ve ever seen The Innocence Files, then Netflix’s Trial 4 is that series but on steroids.
It’s almost audacious at this point to serve a critical opinion on the series as the story itself is so alarming and insightful that it speaks for itself — Trial 4 circles in on Sean K. Ellis’s life and the scenarios that landed him in prison.
Trial 4 is another case of injustice served along racial lines, the recklessness of corrupt cops, and the cyclical force of mismanagement and flawed human processes. Like every post-conviction, there’s this underlying sadness — there’s no cure for lost time. 22 years wasted on a life that can not be restarted.
Using a flurry of archive footage, Trial 4 intrinsically brings together the entire case. There’s archive footage in this and facts that are displayed that are jaw-dropping and unimaginable, giving the audience perspective on how the justice system can so easily be fractured.
The Netflix series does well to inject social elements into the case; it signifies where Boston was culturally at the time of Sean’s arrest, and the oversight into the authorities’ own mindset. This is a series that feels unforgiving in the sense that it only relives Sean’s trauma — he features heavily in this documentary.
Like all documentary series like Trial 4, we have to wonder how there can be preventative measures in place to prevent the imprisonment of the wrongfully convicted. Like the pending case of Steven Avery, Trial 4 brings a solid argument that reform is needed across many states and authorities — not only in the USA but across the globe.
Trial 4 proves that we are not as clinical as we may think when it comes to the justice system, and while some may argue that this happened in the past, it’s useful to note that Sean Ellis was not freed until 2015 — he was convicted in 1995 after two mistrials.