Dakota Entrapment Tapes · Salt Life · R. Kelly

Plus: A podcast lightning round

If you’re like us, you’re so jumpy on adrenaline and uncertainty that your attention span is quite something…so just remember that every issue of Best Evidence is right here. If you don’t feel like reading us right now, you have our blessing to purge this missive from your inbox and read it later, at your leisure. That’s what I’m doing with most of the newsletters I get every day, even the one from Domino with the truly execrable-looking DIY backsplash. Hang in there, friends! — EB

Is recent Sundance Now addition The Dakota Entrapment Tapes a good fit for that twitchy attention span? Provided you’re going with a true-crime lane with your election-news avoidance and not, say, old Julia Child episodes or the edible-’n’-fashion-mags route. In any event, by the time you read this, my live-tweet of all those Life After Lockup episodes stacked up on my DVR will probably be underway, so follow us on Twitter @bestevidencefyi to come along on my catch-up journey.

If your catch-up journey is taking you in a Sundance Now archives direction, should you check out a new two-parter from last week?

The crime
Per Sundance Now’s email from the middle of last month, “In a sleepy North Dakota town, where the crime rate is so low people often don’t lock their front doors, 20-year-old North Dakota State College of Science student Andrew Sadek mysteriously disappears in May 2014 and is found dead almost two months later. What Andrew’s friends and family didn’t know was that in the months before his death, he had been coerced into becoming an informant for an aggressive police task force that had been secretly operating for years. As details of Andrew’s double life are revealed, the cover of the shadowy program is blown, laying bare the collusion and abuse of power of local law enforcement at all levels. Following the Sadek family’s fight for the truth about how their son was killed, The Dakota Entrapment Tapes skillfully uncovers the forces at play in his death and reveals why law enforcement secretly waged a war on drugs, on a college campus that didn’t have a drug problem.”

The story
The Dakota Entrapment Tapes is a strange case — both the case itself and the property, which is two 45-minute episodes, like, it’s…an hour-and-a-half documentary then, no? So I’d be interested to learn how the doc was pitched or picked up for distribution, but while dividing it into two episodes is a weird choice, it’s still a small commitment compared to, say, The Vow, and director Trevor Birney (producer of Elián and the recent Go-Gos doc for Showtime) tells an intimate, focused story. It isn’t a huge story; it isn’t strikingly bizarre, or gory, or particularly twisty. But it’s important to the people who knew Andrew Sadek, and letting the viewer get to know Andrew Sadek makes him important to us, too.

We all know that small-town and campus police can sometimes get in over their heads; we all know that the use of confidential informants is a tricky business, at best; we all know that law enforcement has…let’s go with “creatively interpreted” the War On Drugs (and the one on terror, not for nothing) in order to qualify for more/better funding. Birney carefully, but not too painstakingly, gives us a sense of place and of Sadek’s background and family before using Sadek to embody these issues. We know him first as a reticent kid who liked to drive around and smoke pot and learn fire-twirling tricks, not necessarily in that order — and we know him through his friends, who effortlessly outline the space Sadek left behind.

Like I said, it’s not a You Won’t Believe The Etc. Etc. situation with TDET; it’s just a sad tale, told with quiet confidence and zero condescension in 90 minutes. You watch enough material in the genre, you’ll appreciate a “limited series” that sees said limiting as helpful and stays within itself. It’s probably going to get lost in the shuffle — it nearly got lost in mine — but it shouldn’t; I recommend it. — SDB

As it turns out, R. Kelly’s lawyer wasn’t lying about his assault while in jail. As you might recall, back in August Kelly’s lawyer said that the disgraced singer was attacked by a fellow inmate at the Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center. Now new court filings have more details on the case, with CNN reporting that the alleged Kelly attacker is Jeremiah Farmer, who admitted in a court filing that he had "physically beaten Mr. Kelly in a [sic] attempt to shed media spotlight” on his case.

That, of course, prompted me to look into Farmer’s case to see what there was to see. According to the Associated Press, Farmer is a convicted member of the Latin Kings gang who last week was “sentenced to life in prison for a racketeering conviction that involved two 1999 murders.” Prosecutors say that Farmer beat Marion Lowry, 74, and Harvey Siegers, 67, to death with a “small sledgehammer” and said that the men were trying to run their business, Calumet Auto Rebuilders, “in a community overrun with gang violence.”

Farmer, who the Chicago Tribune says has “‘serious mental health issues,’ substance abuse history, a 7th-grade education and rough upbringing including the suicide of his mother in recent years,” defended himself in court, and made outbursts like “Thank you for the two life sentences you are going to give me,” and “Throw in another murder.” It’s unclear exactly what injuries Kelly suffered at Farmer’s hands, but his attorneys say in a court filing that “Kelly has suffered significant physical and psychological injuries." — EB

While we’re on real-life crime, are you guys following the Salt Life story? Come on, you know I’d be all over a true-crime tale that involves fashion, though the Salt Life apparel brand is hardly Gucci or Versace. (That’s not shade — I’m here in a thrifted pair of flannel pj pants and a t-shirt my late father probably bought at Big Lots, so I’m no Anna Wintour.)

Here’s what we know so far: According to the Palm Beach Post, 54-year-old Michael Troy Hutto, a co-founder of the beach clothing brand, was arrested last week following the shooting death of 18-year-old Lora Grace Duncan at Singer Island, Florida’s Hilton Oceanfront resort on Singer Island.

Hutto, who reportedly “coined the phrase ‘Salt Life’  to describe the ocean-based lifestyle that identified the lifestyle and beach attire clothing of the company he co-founded and served as president” back in 2003, is no longer affiliated with the business, Salt Life said via Facebook, writing, “Sadly we have learned one of Salt Life’s co-founders has been charged with a felony. Salt Life sends their utmost sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased. In 2013, the co-founders of Salt Life sold their entire business to the new owners. The co-founders have not been associated with the brand in any way since the purchase in 2013.” Hutto and his co-founders reportedly received $40 million in the sale.

The circumstances of the slaying are as yet unknown, as are how police linked Hutto to Duncan — all investigators are saying right now is that “the victim had voluntarily left the county with a known individual.” This will be a good one to track, I think. — EB

Assuming we haven’t distracted you quiiiite enough from whatever is happening today, here’s a quick roundup of new podcasts to seek out:

  • Name: For the Defense. Synopsis: “Federal criminal defense attorney David Oscar Markus interviews famed trial lawyers about their most fascinating cases.” There’s only one episode out so far, and it’s Harvey Weinstein's lawyer Donna Rotunno. This sounds like a wild one!

  • Name: Blame: The Fear All These Years. Synopsis: Blame actually dropped nearly a year ago, but it’s got five new episodes on tap, as Alex Christopher Ewing — the suspect in the 36 year-old Denver Hammer Attacks that killed four and injured two more — is now winding its way through the court system. You can catch up on the case here.

  • Name: Slow Burn Season 6. Synopsis: Slate’s award-winning podcast is devoting its sixth season to the LA Riots, and will be hosted by Season 3’s Joel Anderson. We don’t have a release date for the show (Season 5 precedes it, with a “spring of 2021” airdate), but you can get the scoop here.

Wednesday on Best Evidence: I find it physically impossible to think about Wednesday, so let’s just say we’ll feel it out.

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