LA Homicide

An investigative documentary which explores the inner working of a Los Angeles coroner's department

LA Homicide For the first time ever, and for during several weeks, the coroner's department (Los Angeles' forensic department), opened up the doors of its autopsy rooms. The USA forensic scientist, much popularised by Dr Scarpetta's investigations in the books by Patricia Cornwell, is totally independent from the law and from the police and is, therefore, eminently credible and respected. Patrick Bourrat and Jean-Michel Destang followed the 'death detectives', otherwise known as the coroner's investigators, at work in the city's streets. They filmed the autopsies of victims of a violent death, the starting point for any criminal investigation. Los Angeles' coroner, made famous by his autopsies on Marilyn Monroe, Robert Kennedy and Nicole Brown, girlfriend to O.J. Simpson, is the best witness to urban violence. Nearly 1600 of the murder victims, that passed through the L.A.'s coroner's hands last year, were minors, often gang members.
By means of cinema and television Los Angeles extends over the whole world. Beverly Hills, Malibu, Santa Monica and Hollywood still embody a flashy and universal American dream. But the other side of the coin for this Californian paradise is violence. In 1996, 1600 murders were listed in Los Angeles with a frightening record of 48 assassinations in just one weekend, which equals the total annual figure for Paris.

Gang warfare is the particularity of the West Coast. Groups of children, sometimes no older than 10 to 15, kill each other with Kalashnikovs or machine guns. More than 80 000 gang-bangers replay in the streets each day a gory version of West Side Story. In Los Angeles, where the crime rate has dropped slightly over the last few years, the system is getting out of hand. Despite a war arsenal and ultra-modern investigative means the police is powerless to hold back a delinquency that has neither rules nor logic. The explosive cocktail of drugs and the proliferation of arms has transformed certain districts into guerrilla zones. In France, autopsies are carried out sparingly; in Los Angeles they are systematic.

The 18 forensic scientists at Los Angeles' coroner's department carry out 5 000 autopsies a year. The forensic department is, therefore, one of the Americain judicial system's major components. The correct development of an investigation into a criminal affair depends on the forensic scientist's conclusions. The men and women who spend their days crisscrossing the city in ambulances recovering bodies from every district, the police who are subjected to socio-ethnical confrontations and political pressure, the judges who know that by condemning a criminal they are also signing a death warrant for their witnesses or the doctors who carry out assembly line autopsies: all, undoubtedly, know the Californian megalopolis and its excesses better than anyone else. This documentary's journalists went to meet these characters who evolve on the edge of two worlds: that of the living and that of the dead.

L.A. Homicide is not a documentary about death. The producer's process was to make the dead talk in order to understand the living better and to figure out this American society that provokes either rejection or admiration. Racial tension, juvenile delinquency, violence, drug addiction, prejudiced justice etc...The diagnosis ripples out like a forensic scientist passing from the autopsy of a man to that of the American system.

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