Amblin Partners is developing a feature film based on the life of Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, a woman wrongfully convicted of murder who is later freed and starts a center to assist exonerees.
Amblin is currently meeting with writers to adapt Jacobs‘ story, which she wrote about in the book Stolen Time: The Inspiring Story of an Innocent Woman Condemned to Death.
Stolen Time — a working title — will be produced by TED‘s Juliet Blake, who previously worked with the studio on The Hundred-Foot Journey. 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, will executive produce.
Jacobs was in her 20s when she and her husband, Jesse Tafero, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1976 of the fatal shooting of two law enforcement officers based on the false testimony of the man who actually committed the murders.
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. Tafero did not benefit similarly from the recanted testimony and remained on death row until his botched execution by electrocution in May 1990. 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.
Jacobs’ life and story have previously been dramatized in the play The Exonerated, which was later adapted as a made-for-cable movie. She has been played by Mia Farrow, Vanessa Redgrave and Susan Sarandon.
Amblin Partners’ president of production Holly Bario will oversee on behalf of the studio.
“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,” said Bario. “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.”
Added 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.”
Blake is repped by Myman Greenspan.