Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete
Emmy-winning filmmakers Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete M.P.P. ’98., Both are doctoral candidates in the Goldman School of Public Policy. They’re also lawyers, and Presumed Guilty is the story of their struggle to free a wrongly-imprisoned man in Mexico, where about 80 percent of defendants never see a judge in a courtroom.

In light of the competition, Roberto Hernández didn’t expect to take home a trophy from September’s News & Documentary Emmy ceremony in New York.

But win he did — for outstanding investigative journalism — along with his wife and fellow UC Berkeley grad student, Layda Negrete, and fellow makers of Presumed Guilty (“Presunto Culpable”).

When the win was announced, Hernández took the stage, his heart racing, along with Antonio “Toño” Zúñiga (whose court case, based on a first-degree murder charge, the film follows), Zúñiga ‘s defense attorney and crew members and promoters from Mexico.

Dazed and elated, Hernández eschewed the usual acceptance-speech formula to dedicate the film’s Emmy to Troy Davis, the George state prisoner who was executed Sept. 21 despite international appeals to re-examine his case.

“You have a chance to make a 30-second speech,” Hernández says of his statement. “Once you start thanking people, you’re out of your 30 seconds.”

Instead, Hernández noted that while Mexico has a long way to go to improve its justice system, unlike the U.S. it has no death penalty. “That’s why we were able to save Toño,” Hernández says, “and why Troy Davis is no longer here.”

Presumed Guilty
Toño Zuniga, the prisoner they helped set free.

Presumed Guilty was nominated for three Emmys — outstanding investigative journalism (long form), best documentary and best research — and has received some 20 festival awards, in many countries. Hernández attributes the film’s international accolades to the fact that “it’s affected the hearts of people. They can imagine themselves in Antonio’s shoes, where only a camera can save your life.”

The day after the Emmy ceremony, he flew to Washington D.C. to show Presumed Guilty to staff at the World Bank.

“They lend money to countries,” Hernández notes. “One of the things they can do is put conditions, including human rights obligations, on the money they lend.”

— Cathy Cockrell / NewsCenter

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