Our guest on this episode is Sonya Pfeiffer, a former award-winning TV journalist and documentary filmmaker turned criminal defense attorney. Pfeiffer’s former life in television and film, and her current one as a barrister, were transformed by one extremely publicized case, the trial of Michael Peterson, which was the basis of the Netflix series, “The Staircase.” Her focus and expertise is on wrongful conviction cases—in this episode, we explore two such cases.
The first was a landmark for her: the case of Floyd Brown. Floyd was arrested for the murder of a well known woman in his community in Wadesboro, NC. The police received a vague tip pointing to Floyd, and they procured a confession from him under suspicious circumstances. However, with an IQ of 50, he was never deemed competent to stand trial. Instead, he was held in a mental institution for 14 years before earning his release.
The second case focuses on Tim Bridges, whose life in many ways mirrors Tim Robbins’ character in The Shawshank Redemption. Bridges was wrongfully imprisoned for the 1989 rape and burglary of an elderly Charlotte, NC woman. He was exonerated in 2015. During his twenty-five years in prison, Bridges was assaulted and raped. During that time, his grandparents, aunt, uncle and parents died. He had no close family when he was released.
Pfeiffer notes, no amount of money can make up for a stolen life, but there is a definite sense of purpose in working to right a horrendous wrong.