“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Isabelle Armand
Two African American men from poor, rural Mississippi wrongfully convicted for crimes they didn't commit. Lost years of their lives spent in jail and finally released a decade a half later thanks to the Innocence Project and DNA testing. This is their life for all to see.In the early 1990s in a small disadvantaged community in rural Mississippi, Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer were wrongfully convicted of murder. Levon, despite an alibi, was sentenced to life for the murder and rape of a toddler, and was imprisoned for 18 years. A few years later Kennedy was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of another little girl. He was incarcerated for 15 years. In 2008 they were exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project and DNA testing, which led to a single real perpetrator.
The original investigation was botched by police and led by a prosecutor whose main effort was to imprison as many African Americans as he could. He routinely relied on fraudulent experts, most notably a pathologist who was not board-certified yet performed up to 1,200 autopsies a year while the National Association of Medical Examiners sets the yearly average at 250. The pathologist worked with a dental expert who testified that in both cases multiple bite marks covered the bodies and matched the defendants' teeth impressions. It was later proven that there was not a single bite mark on either of the victims.In 2012, photographer Isabelle Armand came across an article about the cases. Such corruption seemed unbelievable. How, why, and where could this happen? How does one cope with wrongful conviction? For the next five years, she spent several weeks each year documenting Levon, Kennedy, their families and their environment. This intimate photographic essay, akin to looking in a mirror, puts faces on the victims of wrongful convictions. It raises consciousness, challenges popular perceptions about poverty, inequality in our criminal justice system, and further demands that America confront itself on these fundamental issues of society.
Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer.
Levon and Jeremy at the plantation’s old office.
Levon and his wife Dinah at Berdie’s Restaurant.
Dinah with her mother Virgie Fulton and sister Mary.
Jeremy and horse at the plantation.
Doris Walker, Levon’s favorite aunt.
Mr. and Mrs. Levon Brooks, June 5, 2016.
Downtown Macon, where Levon grew up.
The body of the first victim was found in this creek in Brooksville’s countryside.
Downtown Brooksville, where Kennedy grew up.
Kennedy on Pilgrim’s Rest Rd. by the family church.
Left to right: James E., Kennedy’s brother, nephew Tedric, cousin Robert, Kennedy, and brothers Clabon and Daniel.
Annie Brewer, Kennedy’s mother, on her 79th Birthday, July 3, 2013.
Kennedy and his fiancée Omelia at their favorite Sunday spot at the Noxubee River Refuge.
Josephine, Kennedy’s sister.
The Brewer cousins, left to right: Markeeta, Quindarious, R’nez, Azarion, Royshylia, Bryson and Karli, Roynika’s baby daughter.