The speaker, author, and co-founder of a healing center for the wrongfully incarcerated shared her own story in the book Stolen Time: The Inspiring Story of an Innocent Woman Condemned to Death
LOS ANGELES (April 7, 2020) – Amblin Partners announced today that it has acquired the film rights to the story of Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, who was in her 20’s when she and her husband, Jesse Tafero, were convicted of the fatal shooting of two law enforcement officers based on the false testimony of the man who actually committed the murders.
Jacobs and Tafero were convicted of the 1976 murders and sentenced to death in trials now widely acknowledged as highly compromised. These were overseen by Judge M. Daniel Futch, Jr., known as "Maximum Dan," a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper who kept a miniature replica of an electric chair on his desk.
In 1981, the Florida Supreme Court commuted Jacobs’ sentence to life in prison, after the chief witness in the trial recanted his testimony and admitted to the murders. The following year, however, her parents, who had been raising her two children, died in a plane crash, forcing her son and daughter into the foster care system.
Tafero did not benefit similarly from the recanted testimony and remained on death row until his botched execution by electrocution in May 1990, which garnered significant media attention for its barbaric nature. The couple maintained their relationship until his death, corresponding every day via prison letters.
In 1992, nearly 17 years after her arrest, Jacobs’ case was reversed on appeal and she was released on time served after taking an Alford plea for second-degree murder, in which she did not admit guilt. She has since gone on to found The Sunny Center—a sanctuary, providing exonerees with support and assisting them with overcoming the trauma, isolation, and disconnection resulting from wrongful incarceration—and maintains a regular speaking schedule to share her story.
She entered prison as a “28-year-old vegetarian hippie,” Jacobs said, and exited as “a 45-year-old orphan, widow and grandmother.”
The film will be produced by Juliet Blake, who is Head of Television at TED and previously worked with Amblin Partners to produce The Hundred-Foot Journey, which stared Academy Award® winner Helen Mirren and was also produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. Executive producing are filmmaker and social justice activist Micki Dickoff (In the Blink of an Eye, Neshoba) and Jason Flom, host of the podcast Wrongful Conviction and founder of Lava Media.
Amblin Partners’ President of Production Holly Bario, who will oversee on behalf of the studio, said, “When Juliet told me about Sunny’s life and the miscarriage of justice she suffered, my jaw hit the ground—just when I thought I’d heard the most shocking part, there would be another twist more unbelievable than the last. Despite everything she went through, Sunny’s is a story of hope—instead of embracing anger she forgave, instead of letting tragedy define her life, Sunny became living proof that love always wins. I’m especially excited to tell this story with Juliet, whom I’ve known for many years, and who understands better than anyone the impact that a powerful story can have.”
Says Blake: “It’s an honor to be telling Sunny Jacobs’ story. I have always been drawn to stories that focus on social justice and the triumph of the human spirit. Sunny’s entire life embodies the themes of love and forgiveness in an extraordinarily powerful way and I can think of no finer place or remarkable group of people to make this film with than Amblin Partners. It feels like a homecoming to me.”
Amblin Partners and Blake are beginning the process of meeting with writers.
Jacobs’ life and story have previously been dramatized in the play (and later Court TV film) The Exonerated, in which she was played by many notable actresses including Mia Farrow, Vanessa Redgrave, and Susan Sarandon.
Juliet Blake was represented in the deal by David Fox, of Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light.
About Amblin Partners
Amblin Partners is a film and television production company, led by Steven Spielberg, that develops and produces films using the Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media banners and includes Amblin Television, a longtime leader in quality programming. The company’s investment partners include Participant Media, Reliance Entertainment, Entertainment One (eOne), Alibaba Pictures and Universal Pictures. The company’s recent releases include 1917, which won three Academy Awards® and has earned over $365m at the worldwide box office, and Green Book, which last year won three Academy Awards® including Best Picture and grossed more than $320m worldwide.