Borderline: The People VS Eunice Baker

Borderline is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Eunice Baker, a borderline mentally retarded woman who was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for murdering a young child, despite evidence that the death was accidental. After nearly 5 years in prison, The New York State Appellate Court recently reduced Eunice’s sentence to criminally negligent homicide, and she was released on time served. Read more below.

Awarded Best Documentary on the Theme on a Disability by the Picture This.. International Film Festival in Calgary, Canada

Borderline is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Eunice Baker, a borderline mentally retarded woman who was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for murdering a young child, despite evidence that the death was accidental. After nearly 5 years in prison, The New York State Appellate Court recently reduced Eunice’s sentence to criminally negligent homicide, and she was released on time served.

When she was first brought in for questioning, Eunice, who did not understand her Miranda rights, signed a false confession. The document states that while babysitting young Charlotte Kurtz, Eunice intentionally killed the child by locking her in her bedroom and turning the thermostat up to 90 degrees on a hot June day. The defense in her trial claims that a short in the thermostat’s circuitry caused the sweltering heat inside the home, a fact that is confirmed by the sworn testimony of an electrical expert. Eunice’s lawyer also asserts that his client, due to her limited cognitive capacity (her IQ is between 65 and 78), did not realize that the heat posed a severe threat to the three-year-old child.

Produced & Directed by:
Slawomir Grunberg

Edited by:
Erika Street, Marylin Rivchin, William Doll & Monika Reder

Sound:
Brian Truglio, Erika Street & William Doll

Director of Photography:
Slawomir Grunberg

Additional Photography:
Jason Longo & Brian Truglio

Associate Producers:
Erika Street & Brian Truglio

Musical Score:
Doug Frankerberger

Production Assistants:
Dana Ewald & Mike Colasurdo

Funding for this film was provided by: The Open Society Institute a Soros Foundations Network New York State Council for the Arts New York Foundation for the Arts

SCREENINGS

• FOCUS 2007, Film Festival, Redding, California

• Award for the Best Documentary on a Theme on Disability, 2006 International Picture This.. International Film Festival, Calgary, Canada, 2006

• Breaking Down Barriers,Moscow Disability Film Festival, Perspektiva, 2006

• Normal Festival, Prague, Czech Republic, 2006

• The Open University Series on Disability, Budapest, Hungary, 2006

• Fall Creek Cinema, Ithaca, New York, 2006

• Perspectives International Film Festival, Los Angeles, 2006

• Reel Life Disability Film Festival, Dearborn, Michigan, 2006

• Chicago International Documentary Festival, 2005

• Warsaw International Film Festival, Warsaw, Poland, 2005

• Sprout Film Festival, NYC

• Athens International Film Festival

• Bay Street Film Festival, Thunder Bay, Canada

• Human Rights in Film Festival (Prawa Czlowieka w Filmie), Warsaw

• New Screen Television Series

• Grant from the Pope Foundation

• New York State Council for the Arts

• New York Foundation for the Arts

• The Open Society Institute

• Soros Media Justice Fellowship

Is there justice for mentally disabled?
Sun-Bulletin
By Chuck Haupt Press &
Friday February 3, 2006

Film profiles plight of Eunice Baker in heat-related death of 3-year-old. Eunice Baker, left, along with her mother, Debra Brown, say they are pleased with the documentary Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker. It tells the story of Baker, a mentally disabled woman who was convicted of murder in 2000.

Press & Sun-Bulletin
By Debbie Swartz
Binghamton, NY

SPENCER — Debra Brown never wanted her daughter, Eunice Baker, to be labeled “mentally handicapped” or “mentally retarded.” But Baker’s mental disability played a significant role in her 2000 conviction for second-degree murder and later in her successful appeal and release from prison in 2004.

That period in the life of Baker and her family is chronicled in Slawomir Grunberg’s award-winning documentary, Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker, which will premiere Feb. 17 at the Fall Creek Cinema in Ithaca.

Grunberg’s 77-minute film — which won an award as best documentary on a disability theme at the 2005 International Film Festival in Calgary — follows Baker’s case and her family’s fight for her, from the original 1999 trial to her release from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 2004.

Grunberg said the purpose of his film is to cast a critical eye on how the criminal justice system unfairly deals with individuals with mental disabilities, especially in poor, rural areas such as Tioga County.

Grunberg met Baker shortly after her arrest in 1999 in connection with the death of 3-year-old Charlotte Kurtz. The child, who Baker was babysitting, died from hyperthermia — an abnormally high body temperature — after being locked in her bedroom. A short in the thermostat caused the furnace to continually heat and the temperature in the Owego apartment to soar to over 110 degrees. But to many in the community, Baker was seen as a baby-killer. She was accused of turning up the heat as high as it would go and locking the bedroom door until the child died. Her own words were held against her; in a second statement she gave to police, she said she intentionally killed the girl.

Borderline – People vs. Eunice Baker
rez. Slawomir Grunberg, USA 2004, 80’
Panorama Filmow o Prawach Czlowieka

Award for the Best Documentary on a Theme on Disability – International Picture This… International Film Festival 2006, Calgary/Kanada

Slawomir Grunberg pozostaje bacznym obserwatorem amerykanskiego zycia spolecznego, zwlaszcza w obszarach zwiazanych z respektowaniem praw jednostki. Film ten wpisuje sie w tradycje dokumentów obnazajacych slabosci procesu karnego w USA. Kobieta na granicy uposledzenia umyslowego pada ofiara ignorancji wymiaru sprawiedliwosci i skazana zostaje na dlugoletnie wiezienie za zabicie dziecka, którego byla opiekunka.

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