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Review of John Lennon’s Murder Without a Trial: The Ambush of Paul McCartney by Reporters is Strangely Bizarre.


The primary measure of a documentary series is the number of firsthand witnesses it can secure. In the case of John Lennon: Murder Without a Trial, this is unquestionable. The three-part series includes almost all relevant individuals, with the exception of Yoko Ono, as it delves into the events of December 8, 1980 when Lennon was fatally shot by Mark Chapman in New York. However, the series cannot control the level of interest and insight these individuals have to offer. Despite the potential for an intriguing story with hidden depths, the truth is a simple and tragic one.

The most powerful episode of the three is the first, which focuses on the actual murder. Chapman shot Lennon as he was leaving his apartment in the Dakota building, which overlooks Central Park. He then waited for Lennon to return from a trip to the recording studio before committing the crime. Murder Without a Trial features interviews with the Dakota’s security guard and porter, who are speaking out for the first time. It also includes conversations with a taxi driver who witnessed the attack, the radio journalist who conducted Lennon’s final interview earlier that day, the producer of Lennon’s last work, the first and second responders from the NYPD, and two nurses and a doctor who were unable to revive Lennon at the hospital.

Together, they provide a vivid depiction of the events that transpired. From the scene of blood and discarded glasses, to Yoko Ono wailing with her husband’s head in her lap, to Chapman’s suspicious behavior before the shooting and his oddly calm reaction afterwards. There are also intriguing bits of archival footage, such as a newscaster struggling to compose herself before announcing Lennon’s death on live television, mistakenly stating that he was killed in his apartment. Another clip shows Paul McCartney being bombarded by reporters on the street, appearing nonchalant, likely due to shock. And two sports commentators can be heard debating whether or not to mention the breaking news during a Monday-night football game, ultimately deciding to do so as the New England Patriots prepare for a field goal.

The show effectively captures a bizarre moment in culture. However, without Lennon, the responsibility falls on Chapman to keep the story going, but he is not a particularly intriguing killer. The series briefly touches on conspiracy theories, hinting at possible government involvement by mentioning the FBI’s monitoring of Lennon during his peak political activism. However, Lennon’s anti-war efforts had already peaked years before and at the time of his death, he had just returned from a break after the birth of his son, Sean.

Following a reference to the CIA’s MKUltra brainwashing program and the unusual actions of Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Robert F Kennedy, the series moves away from conspiracy theories and instead explores the evaluation of Mark David Chapman’s mental state and competency for trial. A psychiatrist who conducted an interview with Chapman is featured for the first time, but does not reveal anything significant. Even Chapman himself is unimpressive as an interview subject: the show includes previously unheard tapes of him speaking with his lawyers, but his statements are nonsensical and contradictory.

“I believed that taking someone’s life would transform me into someone else,” Chapman stated. “I thought I would become the character from the book.” He was discovered at the location of the shooting, reading JD Salinger’s novel calmly. “My intention in killing John Lennon was to provoke more people to read The Catcher in the Rye.” However, he later changed his tune and declared, “All You Need Is Love – and $250m! [Lennon] was the most fake and deceitful person to ever exist.”

Was Chapman legally insane or did he have severe mental health problems but was still able to commit a calculated murder? After more than 40 years, the difference doesn’t seem to matter much anymore, especially since Chapman himself ended the argument by changing his plea to guilty at the last minute, claiming it was God’s will. This means the Lennon case was a murder without a trial.

The show delves into Chapman’s early life in Georgia, revealing a troubling mix of drug use, violence, depression, and a lukewarm approach to religion. The program has managed to locate his former pastor and one of his early girlfriends, who shares that his love for The Beatles abruptly ended after he became offended by John Lennon’s infamous comment about being more popular than Jesus in 1966.

Prior to December 1980, Chapman continued to be an enraged former fan, feeling lost and troubled, and most importantly, craving attention. Even a flawlessly produced documentary like this one runs the risk of giving him more attention than he deserves.

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Source: theguardian.com