LEVON AND KENNEDY: MISSISSIPPI INNOCENCE PROJECT by Tucker Carrington, Photographs by Isabelle Armand Review– Art Slaps Culture
This book would not have been found on the set of “Leave It to Beaver” or the living room of “The Brady Bunch” or even the devil-may-care couches of “Friends.” This stunning, conscience-razing, heroic work chronicles the fight for justice in east-central Mississippi through the lives of Levon Brooks, Kennedy Brewer and their families after two horrific child murders are committed in 1992. The pictures are human in every sense of the word – from the beautiful faces of the two victims, to the rugged yet loving men who were convicted of their deaths, to the hopes in the stories of their families.
This is no stereotypical work that exposes overt racism and an imbalanced court system dead set against basic human decency for people of color. Throughout the book, Carrington, the author, reveals the methodical investigation that took place, the trial by a genuine jury of the accused’s peers, the legal representation given them, the forensic evidence utilized as best as it could be for the times.
But something still went wrong. Two men were convicted of crimes of which they were not guilty – one sentenced to life imprisonment, the other sentenced to death by lethal injection. They were primarily convicted through the use of bite mark evidence, which at the time was seen as a cutting-edge forensic tool. Tragically, it wasn’t the infallible instrument it had been hoped.
No Spoiler Alert!
The book is a testimony to the justice system’s course being righted by 21st Century advances in DNA preservation and usage. At the same time, it is an honest appraisal of the limits of human objectivity and the ever-present specter of latent racism. The actual killer of both little girls in 1992 was apprehended in 2007 after indisputable genetic evidence was re-investigated. Brooks and Brewer were released in early 2008.
The photographs served to nestle the lives of Brooks and Brewer within the context of the families, the struggles, victories, faith and dreams of four generations of Mississippians, different from Middle America, yet so much more similar. Armand’s photo chronicle captures the joys and hopes, even in the midst of struggle, of some of the strongest people in our society who, as Armand’s final credit mentions, “Levon and Kennedy, their loved ones, deserve to be named, seen and heard. Within rural communities vulnerable to silence and oblivion, they stand witness to wrongful conviction and mass incarceration.”
The Innocence Project
The work of the George C. Cochran Innocence Project in Mississippi, after Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer and their families, are among the heroes of this tragedy-turned-grace. The group, after being informed of the cases, worked with attorneys and state-of-the-art technology to show “without a doubt” that the two men were innocent. That same evidence gave the authorities what was needed to apprehend and convict the real killer. This story is a credit to the organization as it is a testimony of the best in the human spirit.
Joseph Anthony Rulli is a transplanted Hoosier, living in Chicago since the fall of 2006. A 1987 graduate of the University of Notre Dame (BA, History) and a 1992 graduate of St. Meinrad School of Theology (MDiv) he taught Social Studies, Religion, Philosophy and History at the high school level. He began writing as a career upon his arrival to his second city and has had two short stories published, a stage play performed, an electronic tour book published online and The Chicago Haymarket Affair (History Press/Arcadia Publishing, 2016) his first print book.