Having spent her career dedicated to sharing people’s stories of triumph and tragedy, Sunny Hostin is now connecting with audiences on a whole new level. The senior legal correspondent and analyst for ABC News, who has spent the last three years on The View, is the host of the new series, Truth About Murder With Sunny Hostin, which will uncover the truth behind some of America’s most perplexing cases.
Over the course of six episodes, Hostin will travel across the country to interview detectives, lawyers, coroners as well as talk to victims’ families in order to piece together the truth of the case. The various stories will take her from Santa Ana, California, where a husband returned home to find his newly pregnant wife murdered, to a small town in Michigan, which was thrown into turmoil after a young mother was found murdered in her home.
“In this series, Investigation Discovery has given me a tremendous opportunity to tell the real story of these crimes that have affected the communities that we live in and talk to those most impacted by these cases,” Hostin said when the show was first announced. “I know Truth About Murder will heal the wounds of those who remain and provide a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves.”
Speaking with ET ahead of the series’ premiere, Hostin explained the inspiration behind the show and the biggest misconception many viewers have about the justice system.
ET: What was the inspiration behind doing this show?
Sunny Hostin: You know, it’s something that I’ve thought about for a really long time. I was a federal prosecutor in D.C., so we did federal and local crime -- most people don’t know that I did child sex crimes, homicide, drugs, guns -- and I always thought -- I watch crime shows a lot and they always focus on the murderer and it's always, “Lets get into the mind of the murderer,” and I always felt, “Why don’t they talk to the lawyers? Why don’t they talk to the prosecutors? Why don’t they talk to the first responders who many times live with these cases? Why don’t they talk to the victims’ families and the communities?” Those are the people that know these stories. I was speaking with the president of I-D and basically waxing poetic and he said, “Well, do it.” And here I am.
It’s a very different type of show but it speaks to my experience and it speaks to who I am because I was a victim of a violent crime. I saw my uncle stabbed in front of me when I was about six or seven years old, and it traumatized me and our family. To this day, it’s something that I think about. And there are cases that I dealt with and crime scenes that I visited that I cannot get out of my mind when I close my eyes some nights. I know those are the cases that people don’t cover and they don’t talk about it from that perspective. My uncle’s case was never the focus of a show and I wanted to tell those stories -- the stories that don’t necessarily make front-page news.
What makes an ideal case for you to cover in this series? What elements do you look for to make an episode?
For me, I’m looking for real transparency and humanity. I’m looking for emotion. I feel these days people almost need permission to feel. They’ve been bombarded with so much stuff that everyone has walls around them. So when I see a case that hasn’t been splashed around the news but it has real humanity to it, like a kid that saw a loved one killed or I see a woman who was trapped in a relationship and couldn’t get out and ends up dead. Those are the types of cases that I feel are everyday people and I feel they're relatable and they need to be told. I also wanted to go all around the country. I didn’t want to just be in Los Angeles or be in New York. So I went to Texas; I went to Louisiana; I went to Michigan. I went everywhere to find those stories. I wanted to show that everyone in our country has a story. That was important to me.
Let’s talk about the name of your show, which is Truth About Murder. What’s the biggest misconception people have about murder and then how is your show sort of disassembling that?
I think the misconception in my experience that people have about murder is that there is one reason why people do the things that they do. Sometimes there’s no reason. Sometimes there are various reasons and it’s not just neat and simple. It’s just not. I also think that people feel that it’s really easy to solve. They don’t understand why the cops haven’t arrested someone or why there is no conviction here. I think our show will, one, show you that law enforcement officers really care. They take their jobs really seriously. And, two, it’s a really hard job. Prosecutors really care and it’s a really hard job. But to take a case from the murder to conviction sometimes does take years and years. Some murderers are really clever.
There’s one episode where the son was, like, five or six years older when he got to testify.
It took years. Justice takes a long time. Our show explains that as best we can that it's a process and then healing is really a process. It's a question I ask over and over again: There's a conviction here, do you feel justice and the answers are everywhere? Do you feel healing? Answers are everywhere. It's different for each and every person and that's really interesting.
Meanwhile, shows like Law & Order take place over a few days.
It’s three days. And it's just not like that in real life. No one is a real caricature. I remember interviewing, for this case, a sheriff in Texas wearing a 10-gallon hat. He was a big guy right out of Central Casting and he sat there and cried about a case that was years old. It was unbelievable and he said he closes his eyes and he thinks about it. I mean, it made me cry.
How do you handle that when you're in the room?
I cried more during this series than I have in a long time. I remember doing that as a prosecutor: Holding hands of victims and their families and just letting it all out. Empathy is a funny thing in that sense and I think it was healing for me and a lot of the folks that I spoke to. I think, as a journalist, it makes sense to put a big wall up when you are interviewing crime victims. But they won't trust you if you do that. I don't think. So I went into this very open and I think that is why we got everyone's story -- stories that haven’t been told before they told me.
Is there something that resonated most with you, maybe with a case or interview?
I think that every case we chose -- these first six hit home for me when we chose them. One certainly was Jake’s case -- the little boy who saw his mom murdered in front of him. That resonated with me because I witnessed a violent crime as a child. After speaking with him, Jake’s OK and that felt good because I'm OK. The other case was a woman who lost her daughter and her daughter was a victim of repeated domestic violence and then murder. She told me during the interview this was her first time even talking about her daughter's death. She blamed herself because her daughter's father had abused her in front of her daughter and she felt that it normalized that behavior for her daughter and maybe that's why she died. We held each other and cried and cried and cried. I don't think I’ll ever forget that.
Truth About Murder With Sunny Hostin premieres Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.