Exclusive interview: Chris Anderson and Fatima Silva of ID’s Reasonable Doubt on exoneration and second chances

America has many interesting statistics when it comes to crime, punishment, and what constitutes fairness in the trial process. Investigation Discovery’s Reasonable Doubt, now in season four, brings to light the cases that have an overwhelming amount of dangling evidential possibilities.

It is anchored by the hopes that families of the convicted who plead their case to show stars, retired homicide detective Chris Anderson and criminal defense attorney Fatima Silva, that another set of eyes might exonerate their loved one.

Chris and Fatima pour over the trial notes, and sometimes, as the premiere of the new season reveals, a trial has not even happened; still, reams of evidence and testimony forever placed in a manila folder or digital file linger with troubling questions.

Anderson and Silva’s job is to tackle the case once again from their unique perspectives and figure out if the convicted is due to another trial or some form of exoneration.

The premiere for their new season is a tough one. In 2008, Liz Hermann was found nearly decapitated in her apartment. Convicted murderer Justin Lunsford’s family is convinced he is innocent.

However, the victim, Liz Hermann, had many unusual and messy personal events stacked closely near the time of her murder. She was also revealed to have called her drug dealer numerous times before her time of death.

Anderson and Silva’s series is a huge spotlight on inequities in the criminal courts. Where other ID series focuses on modus operandi or backstories of heinous crimes, this series takes a closer look at the work done and tries to piece together other plausible motives and figure out if justice was served or not. In addition, it is a series that underscores the wealth gap when it comes to legal aid and the amount of time served for any particular crime.

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The National Exoneration Registry is a database detailing cases in which findings of actual innocence or evidence of innocence have played a role in a convicted person’s release from prison.

The registry has compiled data since 1989 and has found that 61% of those people wrongfully convicted are Black or Latino. So naturally, this weighs on Anderson and Silva as they do their work.

About Reasonable Doubt

In season 4, ID has us back with retired homicide detective Chris Anderson and criminal defense attorney Fatima Silva. Reasonable Doubt is about sussing the questionable case files and possibly finding freedom — if not for the convicted person, for their grieving and conflicted families.

Families need answers — families who don’t have resources or money to give them answers. The combined efforts of Anderson and Silva work hard to examine cases from all angles as they forensically unravel the investigation and trial process.

Detective Sergeant Chris Anderson is a retired homicide detective for the City of Birmingham Police Dept. He spent 17 years as an investigator. He is currently working with the District Attorney’s Office as a cold case investigator and heads up Birmingham’s Conviction Integrity Unit. Chris grew up in Birmingham, and thanks to his mother, a retired Birmingham Police Sergeant has a deep passion for pursuing justice.

Fatima Silva is a seasoned criminal defense attorney fighting for the accused in courtrooms across California’s San Francisco Bay Area. Ms. Silva has wanted to be an attorney since childhood and advocate for individuals going through one of the most difficult periods in their life. She firmly believes defending the accused is necessary to protect rights guaranteed by our justice system. In her spare time, Ms. Silva teaches trial skills to high school mock trial competitors.

Exclusive interview with Chris Anderson and Fatima Silva

Monsters & Critics: The premiere was a great example of the near hits and misses for you. I did a little research on the actual crime. Why didn’t you all mention that the murdered woman had a foreclosure and was also divorced near the time of her murder? Was there a reason why you never went into her background? You did mention she called her drug dealer a bunch of times in the morning.

Fatima Silva: Yes. I think about that too, but we’re not a part of post-production. And throughout the week, we have so many interviews, and there’s so much information. So sometimes there are cases that.

Chris and I will always say this case can’t be in one episode like this needs a whole series. This needs a miniseries. This was definitely one of those cases. It was a challenging case for us to evaluate because of so many layers of different evidence and different things going on in each individual’s lives, both the victim and the convict.

I talked to our producers about this because I talk about him, the divorce and all of that, and him as a potential suspect. We talked about it in our debrief together, and we talked about it when I have my interview with a family. We thought was very important with the victim’s family.

Obviously, any possible suspect, especially an ex or anybody who had recently been with her, is going to be important. But, I think to be honest, what happened was in this episode. There was just too much content. There was too much to fit it in less than an hour episode that there was this other suspect, but we ended up ruling them out. He had an alibi. It would have made for great TV.

But it just wouldn’t have fit into the time that we had to get all the details that we have in this case, unfortunately. So this is why I’m so grateful we have the podcast because we actually talked about this in the podcast.

We didn’t get into everything you had mentioned that we definitely talk about the ex-husband and the possibility of other suspects and other crucial details. I felt that that just couldn’t come in because based on the leads, we had to stick to that in this case when it came to all the information.

Chris Anderson: I’ll absolutely agree with Fatima on that. This was probably—content-wise—I think this is one of the largest cases that we’ve done as far as the involved information.

There were so many layers to this case that we couldn’t get all of it into the 45-minute segment. But as she said, we talked a fair amount about that during the podcast.

Fatima Silva: What’s wild is there wasn’t even a trial in this case. So that’s another thing, that’s crazy. Most of our cases are super dense, and I spend all hours of the night going through the trial transcripts every night of the week.

I was so excited because this one had no trial. So I was like, ‘oh, that’s going to save me a lot of time.’ So then I dove into the case, and I was like, ‘oh no, there’s so much about so many interviews, so much information.’

What it comes down to, unfortunately, just the time of the show and what we have to stick to as far as leads for the family, and whether or not they would work in that, just that wasn’t even mentioned as a lead, and it wouldn’t have worked, because things did check out for the ex-husband.

M&C: You said you struggled with the motive for this guy and the way that she was murdered with such a rage-filled execution of her. It just seemed bizarre.

Fatima Silva: It goes against everything we’ve ever learned about, like a rage killing. Right?

A crime of passion to that extent to stab somebody that many times. And in the podcast, we talk a little more about how we both feel differently about the motives possibly behind the murder.

We both believe he had something to do with it. Personally, I can’t say he acted alone or that it wasn’t something that he was told to do, that other people told him to do to get rid of her because she had information. It doesn’t seem like your typical strangulation or suffocation or something like that, that you’d normally see with somebody who had just met somebody.

Chris Anderson: This was a point that Fatima and I had, and we struggled with throughout the entire investigation, whether or not he acted alone. For one, I feel as though he did act alone, and a lot of those injuries were afterthoughts or him being inexperienced in the crime of murder.

He may have quite possibly came back and did a lot of those injuries that she found when I look at the crime scene photos. So it’s an extremely brutal murder, extremely brutal.

But when I look at it as an investigator, I see something a little bit different. I see him trying to cut the body to pieces, and maybe, I don’t know, take it to different areas and dispose of it that way for her not to be found. That makes more sense to me,

Fatima Silva: And the blood, based on the evidence and when they did try to dismember her [Liz Hermann] body, she had already been dead for quite some time.

There’s not a lot of blood as a result of that. So a lot of it is showing a rookie move, a panic, and trying to clean up some possible rage from earlier that day.

I will say one very interesting thing. I’ll say this over and over, and I’ll probably drive Chris nuts, but it just stands out to me in this episode.

So let me keep saying this line. I was told this quote, and it has stayed with me. They said a woman’s biggest fear is that a man will harm her and a man’s biggest fear is that a woman will humiliate him.

What’s interesting about that is when I was interviewing the mother in this case, and they didn’t, they didn’t air this, but I said, what do you think happened that day? Why? Because it is difficult for me to imagine that he would kill her like that. If it wasn’t at the command of the drug dealers or somebody else, what do you think happened?

And Liz’s mom said, ‘Honestly, I think it could have been as simple as Liz just embarrassed him.’ She was very quick-witted, joking, had an assertive personality like that. She would say things that, depending on your personality, would cross a line. It could cross those boundaries of what’s normal and acceptable. So maybe she just embarrassed or humiliated him, and it triggered him.

When she said that, I thought, wow, that quote came back to mind. This whole thing of a man’s biggest fear is a woman humiliating him. Like maybe it’s true. Maybe if he acted alone, that could have been what happened. And it’s coming from her mom. So that was very interesting. She knows her daughter well.

M&C: People with little to no resources, they’re so easily forgotten, easily boxed up into convictions, to clear a docket. That’s bothersome. Like Cosby, regardless of what you feel about him, that opened people’s eyes to what money does when you have lawyers who bird dog these loopholes and can spring someone out of jail, regardless if they did the crime or not.

Fatima Silva: Look at Robert Durst. He is on trial right now in California on the Berman case. My mind is still blown that he leaves Texas with no conviction.

Although he completely admits to dismembering the guy that he killed, [he claimed], it was self-defense. So I mean, yes, money will get you far. Yes, it’ll save you from [doing] a lot of time.

M&C: When you were creating the show four seasons ago, were you all of like mind that a show like yours needed to exist to be the champion for people who don’t have the deep pockets, that don’t have the financial resources?

Chris Anderson: Fatima and I always say that the one place that a person should be equal, no matter how much money you have, no matter how successful you are, you should have an equal, fair chance within our criminal justice system. And we see that every day, and that’s not the case.

When the show idea was brought to me, I wish I would have been on the creative [beginnings of the series]. When Rob [Rob Rosen] brought it to me, I was floored when he said, ‘I want to put together a show that’s going to be 45 minutes. We’re going to talk about wrongful convictions.’

I’m like, wait a minute. There is no way that we could even think about putting together a show, but I’m game for it. I’m willing to do whatever needs to be done to be a part of it because I just want to see it done.

It’s not about the entertainment for us. It’s about justice. Justice should see no color. It shouldn’t be levied against money. Justice should be simple, straightforward.

One of the things that we love about the show is that collectively, we talk about a lot of these things. So, for example, we talk about the financial aspect of being a victim of our criminal justice system when it goes wrong. And how sometimes we can have some of the worst criminals in this world who have the financial backing, and they could walk out of jail without any being unscathed.

Fatima Silva: And we’ve had cases on this show where we felt somebody got railroaded, the cases that we have not helped the people. And this is important, where we did not feel there was enough evidence that they were innocent as far as the appeal. So there wasn’t anything that could help, but they were absolutely railroaded at that preliminary stage.

And whether it’s because they only had a public defender or even if it’s because they had a private attorney who was planning on running for something, different reasons, but you see people get railroaded in the criminal justice system.

It does not necessarily mean that they’re innocent, and in our cases, we have to focus on now at the point where we have to make this clear all the time. I always say, ‘I wish I could have had this case from the start because it would be different.’

And if we were raising all of these issues before a trial, this person would have had a better chance.

But once someone is convicted, the evidence appeals to overturn that needs to shift to the defendant. And so it’s different.

But we see it happen so often in these cases where somebody was railroaded, didn’t have the money, or wasn’t of a certain color. Nobody heard them, nobody cared. So I think, especially today, this kind of program is very crucial. The audience needs to see that we all play a role in it. We all have them check their bias.

We all need to demand better from the justice system because this could be your family member. At least 1% of the United States incarcerated population is wrongfully convicted. At least 1%. That number seems so small, but that number translates into thousands.

When you think about how many people are actually incarcerated in America, we have the highest incarcerated rates. California alone has a federal court order that we need to lower the number of prisons we have and the number of inmates in prison. It’s disgusting.

And so when you think about thousands that are wrongfully convicted and that our show can only do ten investigations a season. And even then, if we’re looking at 10, it’s only what, maybe one or 2%, that we could really help, because looking at the statistics it’s disturbing. This is needed.

People should be held accountable at all levels, from the attorneys to the judges to the jurors, because people are at a disadvantage depending on whether it’s the color of their skin or socioeconomic status.

Experts alone are expensive. You think about it. If some of these cases have amazing experts, you can’t just have a public defender request amazing world-renowned experts. They have to go through this huge process, and then they’re denied, and they’re told, no, you get this expert.

And it’s probably somebody who’s not the greatest. If you don’t have the means and you don’t have the finances at the end of the day, you could be wrongfully convicted, or, which is just as bad in Chris and my eyes, not just a wrongful conviction, but you could be railroaded. You may not even get the chance at a constitutionally guaranteed fair trial.

Reasonable Doubt Season 4 returns on July 12 at 10 p.m. ET. on Investigation Discovery.
Can’t get enough Reasonable Doubt? Anderson and Silva will also break down their findings in the upcoming Reasonable Doubt Podcast, launching next week wherever you get your favorite podcast. Going over key moments from the show with executive producer Rob Rosen, listeners will learn more about the duo’s first impressions on the case, meeting the family and prison interviews,
and any bonus extra content that did not make the show post-filming family updates.

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