Television Review

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The Independent Culture
A NOTICE in Mel Sachs's office reads: "Have faith in God and Mel Sachs." My guess is that he only put God in there out of politeness. Mr Sachs is defending Sante and Kenneth Kimes, the stars of Jane Treays' documentary Public Enemy: Mother and Son (ITV). They are charged with murdering Irene Silverman, a wealthy New York widow who disappeared on 5 July last year. According to a friend of Mrs Silverman's, Kenneth Kimes shot her with a stun-gun outside the apartment he rented from her, dragged her body inside, wrapped her in a shower-curtain, took the body out to his car, drove her to swampland, shot her with a pistol and dumped the body.

Given that Mrs Silverman's body has not been found - indeed, there is virtually no concrete evidence against the Kimeses - this seems an unusually detailed version of events. When, shortly, the Kimeses are brought to trial, that fact will be the central plank of Mr Sachs's case: nobody in US history has yet been tried for murder in the absence of a body.

Mr Sachs maintains his confidence that the Kimeses will be acquitted, but he may yet be looking to God for help. The Kimeses have a bad image problem. In courtroom appearances, their relationship has gone far beyond what the public expect of a mother and son - already they have been warned for excessive stroking and caressing. Her love for him is "a depraved love", according to one of her ex-lawyers, who also described, along with another of her ex-lawyers, her previous legal difficulties - a house burned down in suspicious circumstances; she stole a Cadillac as a birthday present for her husband; she was videoed shoplifting $23-worth of lipsticks; and she didn't even pay her legal fees. Mr Sachs says that although there have been many public allegations against his client, there have been no legal charges - conveniently overlooking her three-year jail sentence for slavery.

Treays' camera occasionally allowed itself an ironic squint - a sign in Mrs Kimes's burned-out house read: "Bless this little kitchen, Lord, and warm it with your love." For the most part, it gazed deadpan at this black comedy, and the Kimeses stared right back. Kenneth, wide-eyed and smiling, spoke calmly of his plight. Mrs Kimes, flanked by lawyers ("who I dearly love"), offered a more impassioned plea for truth, justice and the American way: "When I held my son in my arms, when he was a child, I used to believe in this country. I don't believe in this country any more. Americans are endangered. Trust me, it can happen to you..."

Jim Shenton, a friend of Mrs Silverman's who entertained no doubt of the Kimes's guilt, also saw an American tragedy: "The Kimeses are an American type, who are, in a way, the thing that makes you, sometimes, if you look into the anonymous crowd, makes you wonder `Who else lurks out there, that should make me shudder?' Bodies without soul, bodies without heart, bodies without pity."

What was really American about this was the hunger to be on television, and the mad, expansive poetry people spouted, as if by accident. With no resolution yet in sight, the drama trailed off disappointingly; but for coolness in the face of several types of insanity, it deserved a medal.