EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has come aboard to develop a feature about Doreen Giuliano, the Brooklyn-based mother who has spent over 10 years trying to get overturned the shaky murder conviction of her son in 2003. Bedford Falls’ partners Ed Zwick and Marshall Herkovitz have boarded the project, with Herskovitz writing and Zwick directing. They join Conde Nast Entertainment’s Dawn Ostroff and Jeremy Steckler as producers.
Giuliano is the mother of John Giuca, who in 2003 was convicted of the murder of Mark Fisher in Red Hook. Convinced her son was innocent, Giuliano has gone beyond the tireless advocate that many parents might become when their children are incarcerated. She went undercover to expose biased jurors, wore a wire to record lying informants, even organized mass protests against the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, which had become notorious for a string of overturned convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct.
“How many men are in prison in the U.S., and most of them have a mother who thinks her son is innocent,” Herkovitz told Deadline. “This mother has done more than probably any mother has done to try and prove her son’s innocence. She’s moved heaven and earth, gone undercover twice, and led marches to put the district attorney out of office. It’s a Tom Joad story. Her marriage ended because her life is devoted to getting her son free. I believe that if she thought her son was guilty, she would not have done all this.”
Giuca was tried and convicted despite a lack of forensic evidence and sentenced to 25 years to life. Damning testimony came from a man who himself was a former suspect, and more from a jailhouse informant who claimed to overhear him making incriminating statements. Giuliano discovered reason to suspect one of the jurors had a relationship with a friend of her son that should have disqualified him from being on the jury. She went undercover, befriended the juror over a long period and taped their conversations, including one in which he is alleged to have acknowledged he had no business being on the jury and that he was the first juror to pursue a guilty verdict. She has been trying to use this as reason for a new trial, but that was once again shot down.
Said Herskovitz: “Another key element of testimony used to convict this kid was a jailhouse informant who claimed he overheard John speaking to his father about the murder weapon. He said that John’s father asked, what did you do with the gun and that John said, ‘I took care of it.’ The fact is, his father had a stroke and couldn’t speak at the time this conversation was supposed to have taken place. It was obvious that the prosecution witness was lying and there is strong reason to believe that the prosecutor knew he was lying. I’m not making accusations but there is a pattern here of trying to get a conviction at all costs. We have a lot of passion for this. You want to believe in justice and the idea that innocent people should not go to jail. A special ethics unit in Brooklyn just upheld his conviction, which was a terrible blow,” Herskovitz said.
Herskovitz, who with Zwick has made such socially aware films as Blood Diamond and Traffic, acknowledged the challenges in telling a story whose ending he hopes has yet to play out. “I can’t tell you the third act of the movie, because Doreen is still fighting, but maybe that is the end of the movie,” he said. “We’d love for the ending to be that her son goes free, but this is an important tale to tell regardless. From the human standpoint of what someone is willing to do for love, to the value of understanding a criminal justice system where there aren’t enough checks and balances and not enough accountability for overzealous prosecutors.” CAA packaged the pic.