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NBC producer explains his investigation of wrongful convictions

PHOTO COURTESY OF KEVIN URGILES
Dan Slepian, far right, speaks during the School of Journalism’s “My Life As…” event on Oct. 6. Slepian, a Stony Brook alumnus, investigated wrongful convictions for NBC Dateline for 15 years. COURTESY OF KEVIN URGILES

After investigating the cases of wrongfully convicted criminals for 15 years and producing an award winning documentary series, Stony Brook alumnus and NBC producer Dan Slepian came to the Student Activities Center Auditorium to tell the story.

The documentary, called “Dateline Conviction,” is a 12-episode digital series from NBC News that chronicles the case of New York inmate Richard Rosario, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1996.

“I always look people directly into their eyes and say, ‘Tell me the truth or I am going to find out everything, including the color of your underwear,’ ” Slepian said at the My Life As event on Oct. 6. “I didn’t think I did something special, I was just doing my job.”

Slepian was investigating the case of another wrongfully convicted man named Eric Glisson when he heard about Rosario. Slepian started to investigate Rosario’s conviction and filmed a documentary as the case unfolded. Rosario claimed he was actually one thousand miles away in Florida when the crime was committed. At the end of the series, Rosario was freed after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Glisson, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1995 murder of a cab driver, was freed after 17 years in prison.

“Eric Glisson is the definition of tenacious,” Slepian said. “He never gave up. Never gave up filing freedom of information requests, seeking information, always being denied, investigating the case behind the bars in his prison cell.”

The only evidence held against Glisson and five innocent others was an eyewitness who was also a prostitute. Glisson had a young daughter when he was arrested. When he got out of prison, she was already an adult.

“As a journalist, when you are working your way through careers, all of us have passions, our interests,” Slepian said. “For me, it was like a lightbulb that went off at some point. I was sitting across the table, I was asking security prison, and I have evidence that this man was actually innocent. He had been there for 15 years, and nobody was really doing anything about it. It is what you do when you realize this person is innocent [that] determines who you are.”

Applause came from the audience as Glisson stepped on stage. He was wearing a black shirt with a blazer and blue jeans and smiled to the students as he casually introduced himself.

“I want to show media students that you can really make a difference in people’s life,” Glisson said. “The juridical system cannot correct on its own. I want the juries, the cops to know that someone is looking over their shoulders. They never apologized to me. They never apologized to anyone who is wrongfully convicted.”

After 17 years of being imprisoned, Glisson had trouble adjusting to the modern world. He didn’t know how to use cell phones when he was freed. He didn’t even know how to hold one at first.

“The first time I took the train after I got out, I was surprised to see everyone looking down on their cell phones,” Glisson said. “There is no more sense of community. Now I cannot live without my phones, I have two of them.”

Glisson dropped out of school in the sixth grade, but he came out of prison with a G.E.D.

“The education counselor first was reluctant to give me the cell study material because I only went to the sixth grade,”  Glisson said. “I stayed in my cell studying every day to pass my G.E.D., and I passed it on my first try.”

After he was freed, Glisson went back to school and recieved a degree in psychology from Mercy College. He opened a Bronx juice bar in 2013. Now, Glisson plans to pursue a law degree. His goal is to work in public office.

“I was my main critic,” Glisson said. “I always thought I couldn’t do it. But once I got that taste that I could, there was no stopping me.”

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