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When Journalists Make A Difference

Lemus2_8.6.jpgLast night’s Dateline was a rare example of a piece of network TV journalism, which tries to right a wrong. But the two-hour program was much more than that. In its style: a handheld camera, no narrator, a story told by the people who lived it. With twists and turns you might find on Law & Order, this ripped from the headlines story, was the real thing, ripped from headlines that go back to 1990, and the murder at the Palladium nightclub.

Dateline producer Dan Slepian began compiling the story in 2002, 10 years after David Lemus and Olmedo Hidalgo had been convicted of murdering a bouncer at the club. Slepian shadowed two Bronx detectives who re-opened the case. Det. Bobby Addolorato told Slepian this was “the only case I took home at night.”

Addolorato thought he and his partner, John Schwartz had enough evidence to free Lemus and Hidalgo, “you have two eyewitnesses, three admission witnesses… and a co-conspirator who is confessing to it.”

In one of the more chilling moments of the documentary, Slepian interviews Thomas “Spanky” Morales in the lobby of NBC’s Rockefeller Center headquarters. Morales is thought by investigators and another bouncer at the Palladium, to be the trigger-man. Finally, in 2005, after a new hearing is called, and evidence mounts, the charges against Olmedo are dismissed. He is deported to the Dominican Republic.

Lemus_8.6.jpgFor Lemus, it’s another agonizing wait, which Slepian captures with the mundane, (the hard-nosed detective making breakfast) and the emotional, (Lemus’ mother meeting Det. Addolorato for the first time, “let’s go get your son out of jail.”) 1 hour and 50 minutes into the documentary, Lemus is set free.

And as in many feature films, a post script is given for the main players: Det. Addolorato is now a security guard at a museum; “Spanky” Morales is a free man, a court ruled authorities waited too long to arrest him for the Palladium murder. And David Lemus?, he’s free and living in Florida with his 7-month old son. But since the Manhattan DA’s office thinks he’s guilty, they plan to retry him all over again, later this year.

Something tells me, Dan Slepian will be following that part of the story, too.

>More – From an emailer: “I must tell you… all the buzz today (even here at ABC) is how unbelieveable NBC’s film was last night. They really deserve a tip of the hat…”

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