Guilty or Not Guilty?
Thrown in jail at the age of 16 after murdering a man named Johnny Allen, Murder to Mercy follows Cyntoia Brown from her moments after being locked up right the way through to her subsequent release. Along the way the documentary covers all the big points in the case, peppering in a whole slew of actual court-room footage and plenty of interviews with experts. There are some bigger societal issues surrounding our changing attitude toward the justice system but ultimately this is a very personal tale that almost exclusively revolves around what happened to Cyntoia.
Let’s nip this in the bud right away – Cyntoia Brown admitted to killing Johnny Allen during an evening pimped out by her boyfriend, Kutz. Topped up with a heady cocktail of drugs and sex, Cyntoia negotiated a fee of $150 with this man who took her back to his house. Lying in bed together, she claims he reached over and grabbed what looked to be a gun so she shot him in the head as an act of self defence and left. Before she scrambled outside however, she took some guns and money and returned to Kutz for fear of arriving empty-handed.
However, the prosecution and reports claim Mr Allen was asleep during the time, with his hands in a natural sleeping position and the bullet penetrated the back of his head while he had his back to her in the middle of the night. So was this really self defence or something more?
This is one of those grey area cases that’s likely to be debated fiercely by the true crime community. Either way, the film steers clear of the intricate details surrounding this and instead turns its attention to Cyntoia herself, specifically her mental well-being and the controversy surrounding the way her case was handled by police and judges.
While there are a lot of facts thrown into the film, this also feels like a story that could have been changed to a true crime series with another couple of episodes used to beef this story out a bit. There is some good material here though, with a lot of footage from the different moments in Cyntoia’s case showcased through the years.
Alongside these segments are the various interviews which see different experts and immediate family weighing in with their thoughts on what happened. Ultimately though you’re left to your own opinions surrounding whether Cyntoia was guilty or innocent but the documentary certainly leans heavily on the innocent side.
Interestingly, the one part of the documentary that really shines is the positive effect prison has had on Cyntoia. The idea that jails can only be used for punishment is a pretty archaic concept now and Murder To Mercy reinforces this by showing the power of rehabilitation and the good this can actually do for a human being.
Seeing Cyntoia’s transformation over the years is a testament to this as well and her case is one that shows all the failings of the Justice system along the way, which is something we’ve seen an alarming amount of over the years in these Netflix documentaries.
Murder to Mercy is an interesting film that has enough to make it one worth watching but also a documentary that’ll almost certainly divide audiences surrounding how they feel about this case. There’s no question that the Cyntoia Brown Story is one that flirts that grey area between right and wrong and ultimately this is why it’s such a powerful story worth telling.
Although some of the design choices in the film don’t work as well as they perhaps should, Murder to Mercy is a good watch nonetheless and true crime fans will almost certainly enjoy picking this apart and weighing in with their own opinions.
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Verdict - 6/10