The ABC Close-Up, "The Shooting of Big Man: Anatomy of a Criminal Case" (9 p.m. WJLA) is, for prime-time television, an unsually realistic look at how the criminal justice system works.
Unfortunately, the system is generally dull, and even students of the courts may find this ambitious two-hour documentary slow going.
The case of the State of Washington v. Jack Jones was videotaped a year ago by the Harvard Law School's Evidence Film Project. ABC News then took 100 hours of unedited film and spliced it together, from the moment Jones' victim - Big Man - is lifted into an ambulance to the jury's announcement of its verdict.
Jack Jones, 51, is charged with assault with intent to murder Raymond "Big Man" during a shooting in the lobby of a skid-row hotel. Big Man's spinal cord is severed by the bullet. Jones, who claims self-defense, is represented by two young lawyers from the public defender's office.
During the first half of the program, the case is methodically pieced together - prosecution and defense versions. There are repeated scenes of cellblock interviews with Jones and his attorneys, bedside visits with Big Man, trips to the scene of the crime, witness conferences and strategy sessions among the attorneys.
Later Jones, a sympathetic character with a deep scar in his left cheek, is out of his orange prison jumper, into a blue suit and seated at the defense table in a Seattle courtroom. Jury selection, evidenciary questions, Jones' testimony and closing arguments by both sides lead up to the climatic jury verdict.
Occasional narration by reporter Tim O'Brien takes on a Dragnet tone as if he was trying to inject drama into a routine criminal case. And the film editing is somewhat confused as the camera jumps from the jail cell to the hospital room to the attorneys' offices to the courtroom.
The program's strength is in the film itself, the faces, the tone of voice, the tedium and at times the emotion that is part of practicing the criminal law. And several troubling questions are raised: the attorneys' overwhelming need to win the case; police conduct at the arrest; and coaching the defendant about his testimony.
Once the verdict is in, the program moves to a bare television studio where reporter O'Brien and Charles Nessen - associate dean at Harvard Law and an expert in criminal procedure - ponder the process and the results. Nessen concedes that the case may not be typical: The attorneys and the judge worked hard, they were