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'Documentary Now!' fan recap: Don Lentile, an innocent man

Season 1 | Episode 4 | “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” | Aired Sep 10, 2015

This week, the IFC mockumentary/doc-parody series Documentary Now! spoofs the criminal-justice documentary genre. More specifically, it spoofs the 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line.

Helen Mirren once again greets the audience and introduces tonight’s documentary: The Eye Doesn’t Lie. This 1986 investigative documentary tells the tale of Don Lentile (Fred Armisen). Due to Don’s odd personality, love for jazz, eating chocolates in the courtroom, and obsession with the ’80s sitcom Mama’s Family, he was wrongly accused of the murder of professional sign spinner John Patrick Winslow. Cue the classic crime-doc music (very HBO The Jinx) and get ready to learn all about Don Lentile.

“They say bad things happen to good people. If that’s true, then I must be some kind of saint.” —Don Lentile

One evening in San Antonio, Texas, Don Lentile picked up a hitchhiker named Robbie (Bill Hader). His life would never be the same. Now in jail, Don is interviewed by a documentary crew about the events that lead to his death-penalty sentence.

Don explains that he picked up Robbie out of the goodness of his heart. The two men were driving along when they came across Winslow spinning a sign. Don recalled how much Robbie disliked the sign spinner, even stating, “Someone should shoot him.” Well, that is exactly what happened. The following day, while enjoying a Grand Slam at Denny’s, Don was picked up by the San Antonio police and accused of murdering John Patrick Winslow.

Don was then bullied into signing a confession, but the cops had to get creative. The cops first told Don that if he didn’t sign the confession, he would never see his wife again—perfect, since Don was divorced 11 years. When that didn’t work, they told him he would never see his kids again—fine, due to Don’s ex-wife having messed-up tubes, they never had children. Finally the cops got Don to “pull a gun” on them.

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Robbie is interviewed about the events that lead to Don’s arrest. It should be noted that Robbie is a well-known criminal in the San Antonio area, but he is not good at crime. He once robbed a store, only to return to complain that none of the lotto tickets he stole were winners. During his interview with the documentary crew, Robbie recalls driving with Don. Don was a big jazz fan, and while the two were driving, Robbie decided to put in his Poison tape. Don then simply took out the tape and put jazz back on. In that moment, Robbie knew that Don was going to pay for messing with his music.

Don dropped off Robbie and asked for gas money. Robbie told Don that he had none, which is why he was hitchhiking. Don wrote down his information and told Robbie to do the right thing and send some gas money. Robbie then used the information to set up Don for Winslow’s murder.

About a month after the shooting, the cops were still trying to break Don; then they finally got a lead. A local pawnshop owner came forward as a witness to the shooting. The pawnshop owner recalled seeing a blue two-door car with the license plate “I Heat Pussy” driving away from the scene. This description fit Robbie’s car, NOT Don’s. So the cops questioned the pawnshop owner again and got a different description, one that fit Don’s car and license plate (“I Heart Jazz”) perfectly. There was finally enough evidence to go to trail.

There was such a lack of strong evidence, you would think that it would be a sure win for the defendant. Don had TWO alibis. It was also proven that someone who was right-handed shot Winslow; Don’s right hand was permanently asleep. The trial was a complete train wreck. Don was utterly unlikable and showed no remorse. Don would also eat a full box of chocolates every day in the courtroom, then describe the fillings of each chocolate to the room.

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Don’s lawyer began to show the early signs of dementia and believed that Don was a Nazi supporter. One day in the courtroom, Don’s lawyer actually wrestled him to the ground.

Sure, there was no physical evidence against Don Lentile, but just one look at him and you knew that man should be behind bars. Don was sentenced to the death penalty.

During his final interview with the documentary crew, Robbie admits that he was the one who actually murdered Winslow. Robbie is already serving life in prison for another crime. Don Lentile remains clueless on the whole matter. Don still isn’t even sure if Robbie actually killed Winslow.

Next week on Documentary Now!, we travel to Iceland to follow the citizens of a town that holds a festival honoring American gangster Al Capone.

Documentary Now! airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on IFC.