Presumed Innocent
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Presumed Innocent can be found here.

Prosecuting attorney Rozat 'Rusty' Sabich (Harrison Ford) is assigned to investigate the murder of Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), his colleague in the Kindle County District Attorney's office. Unbeknown to anyone in the office, Rusty and Carolyn had been having an affair until Carolyn broke it off. As the evidence in the case unfolds, it begins to look more and more like Rusty murdered her. Meanwhile, Rusty's boss, Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy), is concerned with campaigning for re-election while opposed by his former subordinate Nico Della Guardia (Tom Mardirosian) and Della Guardia's new deputy, Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi). When Della Guardia is ultimately elected and he learns that Rusty was involved with Carolyn, he decides to prosecute, and Rusty finds himself on the other side of the table...the accuser becoming the accused.

Presumed Innocent is a 1987 novel by American author and practicing lawyer, Scott Turow. The novel was adapted for the movie by American writer Frank Pierson and film-maker Alan J. Pakula, who also directed the movie. It was followed by a TV sequel, Innocent (2011). There is another sequel, The Burden of Proof (1992), but it does not contain the Rusty Sabich character.

The note, which read 'Stop it. I know it's you!' was from Carolyn. Since she broke up with him, Rusty had been calling her just to hear her voice and then hanging up.

Rusty wasn't ambitious enough for her. Carolyn was attempting to climb to the top by sleeping with men she thought could help her get ahead. Carolyn suggests to Rusty that he go after Horgan's position, but Rusty declines. The next day, Carolyn breaks it off with him.

How was Carolyn murdered?

At first, it looks like she was raped, tied up, beaten, and strangled. However, after the autopsy, it was determined that she was first beaten and died of head injuries, then she was tied up (no rope bruises on her wrists, knees, and ankles) and the scene staged in order to make it look like a rape.

The most incriminating evidence is a glass bearing Rusty's fingerprints found just five feet from Carolyn's body, proof that Rusty was in the apartment. Zorak V carpet fibers were found in Carolyn's apartment, identical to carpet samples taken from Rusty's house. The fluid sample taken from Carolyn's vagina contains spermicide (used with a diaphragm) and sperm from a man with type A blood; Rusty's blood is type A. Finally, a telephone company printout shows numerous calls to Carolyn's house originating from Rusty's home phone.

When the police are searching the house, Rusty's wife Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia) asks him why they're not looking for the murder weapon. Rusty explains that they wouldn't be looking for a weapon because they knew that Rusty was a former prosecutor and that he wouldn't have been stupid enough to bring the murder weapon home. Also, if the prosecution looked for a weapon and failed to find it, they are required to admit this in court, which would make the prosecution's case appear weaker.

Rusty's case goes before a grand jury to determine whether or not there's enough evidence to try him. Prosecuting attorneys are Nico Della Guardia and Tommy Molto, defense attorney is Alejandro 'Sandy' Stern (Raul Julia), with Judge Larren Lyttle (Paul Winfield) presiding. Little by little, Sandy eats away at the prosecution's case. When the glass with Rusty's fingerprints mysteriously disappears from the evidence room, it becomes questionable as to whether there really was a glass and negates testimony comparing Rusty's fingerprints with the supposed fingerprints on the supposed glass. Sandy points out that Rusty and Carolyn were P.A.s working in the same office, so the phone calls could easily be work related. The biggest break comes when Sandy discovers Carolyn had her tubes tied six-and-a-half years earlier and would have no need for a diaphragm and spermicidal jelly. The implication is that the coroner mixed up his samples, sending fluids from another woman to be read as a sample from Carolyn. In addition, Sandy has evidence to show that both Carolyn and Molto were involved in a bribery case several years earlier, the implication being that Rusty is being framed by Molto to prevent him from exposing the details of that case.

How does the movie end?

Judge Lyttle dismisses the case against Rusty on the grounds that there is no direct proof that Rusty murdered Carolyn, no proof of motive, and there is the possibility that Molto may have manufactured evidence in order to frame Rusty. Sandy later explains to Rusty that the person taking the bribe was Judge Lyttle, who was depressed after his divorce and contemplating suicide at the time, so, in a sense, Sandy blackmailed the judge into not letting Rusty's case go to trial lest he be exposed. On the ferry home, Detective Lipranzer (John Spencer) hands the missing glass to Rusty, explaining that he was given the glass by the evidence room after Molto removed him from the case, so he simply kept it. One day, when Rusty's wife Barbara is away at her final dissertation hearing, Rusty decides to fix the backyard fence. When his hammer breaks, he gets another from the tool box and is horrified to see blood and hairs on it. As he's washing it clean, Barbara returns. In an almost dissociative manner, i.e., speaking in the third person, she admits that she killed Carolyn, whom she calls 'the destroyer', as revenge for her affair with Rusty. She explains how she phoned Carolyn and arranged a visit so that they could talk, hit Carolyn in the head with the hammer when she wasn't looking, tied her up in ways Rusty has described that perverts do, injected fluids taken from her own diaphragm after she and Rusty had sex, left a glass that Rusty had used on a previous night when he drank a beer, unlocked the door and windows, and came home. She arranged things so that Rusty would know she murdered Carolyn, but she knew he would keep it to himself and label the crime 'unsolvable.' What she hadn't counted on was Rusty being charged with the murder. However, 'the destroyer was destroyed,' she concludes, 'and we were saved.' Rusty looks at her incredulously. 'Saved?' he questions. The final scene is a shot of the empty courtroom and a voiceover from Rusty explaining that it's possible to try two people for the same crime, but he couldn't take his mother from his son. Having spent all his life as a prosecutor assigning blame, he blames himself for setting off the events that led to the death of Carolyn Polemus. 'There was a crime,' he says. 'There was a victim. And there IS punishment.'

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 9 months ago
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