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Interview with David Heilbroner

The Cheshire Murders

HBO

What drew you to this story, and why did you want to make a film about it?

DAVID HEILBRONER

From the beginning, nothing felt right about the crime. It was the wrong town. It was the wrong family. The perpetrators didnt make sense; they were petty criminals who had never committed acts of violence, or anything remotely on this level. And it goes further. The father escapes alive while the rest of the family dies. How did that happen? None of it made sense. The series of mysteries just kept unfolding as we probed deeper.

HBO

Did you have a particular point of view when you started shooting?

DAVID HEILBRONER

We wanted to show the effects and causes of this crime from different perspectives. Everyone focuses on the perpetrators. But there are other forces involved that are just as interesting, like the lives of the victims, the Petit family, who were so extraordinarily good that they made an almost mythical contrast. And then theres the town which was a picture of American innocence, the suburban notion that, if you just buy a lovely house in a lovely town, youre safe. And so it was important for us to look at this from a multi-level perspective, to take it outside the level of just a forensic recounting of the crime.

"If you just say, evil attacked us, lets kill them, we will have eradicated evil and then move on, you condemn yourself to having the same thing happen again."

HBO

What else bothered you as you dove deeper into the case?

 

DAVID HEILBRONER

One thing was Joshua Komisarjevsky, one of the perpetrators. During the death penalty trial, they brought out in great detail how he had been raised. And that turns out to have been a nightmarish scenario. Im a former prosecutor, and Ive written true crime books, but this case was off the charts. The foster care system should have seen this, and should have taken a greater interest. The prison authorities should have monitored him better. He was obviously damaged from a very early age. And the tragedy is what happened in Cheshire. And then theres the Cheshire police who really let the public down.

HBO

One of the things you question in the film is the concept of eradicating evil.

DAVID HEILBRONER

At the time of the crime, people couldnt deal with the facts of the case. They didnt want to hear about the perpetrators. The assumption was, evil attacked our good town and we just want to put these guys to death, and move on. And as much as that may sound like an attractive proposition, it isnt how the real world works. There is no such thing as evil incarnate. If you just say, evil attacked us, lets kill them, we will have eradicated evil and then move on, you condemn yourself to having the same thing happen again. And its not that we want to forgive their actions, but we need to understand them. We need to go behind the simple story if were ever going to extract worthwhile lessons that can save us from a tragedy like this in the future.

The Cheshire Murders