If you are familiar with this work you know first that I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we began the path that would lead to the creation of the film about the murder of Joel Battaglia, Death of a Phoenix, there was no guarantee that there would be a result. I had been working with the Battaglia’s for nearly five years, getting the story, staying in touch and waiting. Along the way I had been talking with members of law enforcement, not wanting to make a film about a case when there was an active investigation ongoing. Then came the time in 2013 and 2014 when the case was laid down for a time, and after a conversation with law enforcement, I sensed it was the right time and might even be helpful to tell the story in as much detail as we could. So we moved.
The film premiered June 11th, the 24th anniversary of his murder, to a full house at the Wealthy Street Theater. Some bright member of the media–I think it was Peter Ross–put two and two together a few days before and asked then Captain Jeff Hertel if there was a cold case team formed to investigate the murder. Bingo, there was. For about five minutes I was fit to be tied; we were going to make that announcement at the film premier. But, duh, it’s happened how many times? Three? We make a film and the police use it for some traction and awareness; that’s what it’s intended for. So, I had to laugh at myself that I was going to keep that under wraps.
And the rest you probably know…the renewed investigation took about a year and the result was the conviction of Aurelias J. Marshall for Joel’s murder.
in the process police and prosecutor managed to clear another man, Quentin Carter, of a crime he did not commit–but paid for with 17 years of his life. Carter had been convicted for the rape of a 10-year-old girl who lived with her mother and Aurelias J. Marshall at the time of Joel’s murder. It was a crime that police and prosecutors now believe Marshall committed. That’s what the young woman says. She says that she has lived with her guilt every day since for falsely testifying against Carter. Moreover, she says, her crime is beyond forgiveness. Remember, she was 10 and had been beaten by Marshall to tell the untruth.
Here’s her story:
Woman forced to accuse innocent man of rape: ‘It was hell’.
Law enforcement has moved as quickly as possible to clear Mr. Carter. Prosecutor Bill Forsyth walked the papers seeking to clear Mr. Carter’s name to the court and yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press carried the account of that sentence vacation:
Judge overturns rape conviction for man who spent 17 years in prison.
So, it’ sofficial.
I was wondering when we’d hear from Mr. Carter about his experience. Last night WOOD-TV stepped in:
Man wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years breaks silence.
Here’s one miracle: in the course of finding justice for Joel Battaglia, this injustice has been set as right as it’s going to be for now.
Here’s another: Carter says he forgives the woman who was only a child when she was forced to testify against him. The unforgivable has been forgiven.
Oh, we’ll hear more about this; there are likely moves for some kind of reparation, something Michigan doesn’t have in cases of wrongful convictions. (Yes, I think we should.)
But we need to expect miracles when we ask. We asked for the miracle of finding Joel’s killer. We had that request answered, and answered in such a way that the miracle was more than we could have imagined. “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.”
The investigators gave their all to the solution of finding Joel’s killer. And in return this is what was given to them: “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” Part of the meting out has been justice for Quentin Carter. It’s a gift not only to Carter–to whom it was due–but a gift to any others who are wrongfully convicted and who await exoneration. It’s a gift, too, to the judicial system. It only works when it works fully. In this case now we know.
I am grateful.