Frederick Hand

Frederick Hand

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Birmingham homicide detective nabs reality show

Chris Anderson, a retired Birmingham Police Department homicide investigator and fan favorite on "The First 48" when it filmed in the city several years ago, now his has own crime reality show.

In Investigation Discovery's new series "Reasonable Doubt," Anderson and Los Angeles attorney Melissa Lewkowicz partner to reopen closed cases to "either offer the convicted's family hope for an appeal, or confirm the dark truth that their loved one really is guilty of the most unforgivable crime."

The show premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. (CDT) on Investigation Discovery. "It was nothing but God,'' Anderson says of his return to the small screen.

Anderson, a 43-year-old husband and father of three, retired from the state's largest police department in 2016 after 21 years on the force. Of those, he spent 17 years as an investigator, working more than 300 homicide cases in a city that traditionally lands in the Top 10 for murders per capita.

In 1996, at the age of 22, Anderson joined BPD. His mother, veteran police Sgt.  Jessica Anderson, handed him his badge and later pinned it on his chest. "It's always been my dream,'' he told that day.

Nearly one year ago, Anderson took an investigative position with a railroad company and turned in police department retirement papers. Then head of BPD's fugitive unit - the Crime Reduction Team - Anderson was training his replacement when he was told he had a telephone call from a television producer.

"They said they were producing a new show, and my name had come up as a possible candidate,'' he said. "They talked to me for a couple of weeks, but they couldn't tell me yet what the show was about."

A week later, Anderson did a Skype interview with one of the show's executive producers, and it was then they unveiled the premise: "With news stories of overturned convictions and mistrials, and relentless pleas of innocent from inside prisons, a single question haunts every convict's family: did they really do it?"

"I absolutely fell in love with the show,'' Anderson said.

About a month later, he got word that the job was his. "It blew my world,'' Anderson said.

Anderson was no stranger to film crews. He was often featured in A&E's "The First 48" which followed Birmingham homicide detectives throughout the city from 2009 through 2011.

There was one problem, however. Anderson, now on his new job, had not yet accrued enough vacation time to leave for six weeks of filming. "That's when it was time for me to go to knees and pray to God,'' Anderson said. "I needed to keep my job. I have a family to support."

This was his prayer: "I know you brought me this opportunity. Open the doors that need to open, and I will glorify your name every step of the way."

His commander, a former New York homicide investigator, said, "I can't deny you this." They agreed upon a six-week unpaid leave of absence, and with that Anderson was off.

According to the show's website, Anderson and Lewkowicz dive head-first into cases "full of mind-bending facts, often uncovering shocking evidence previously overlooked by police - or barred by the court - to help discover if justice was served to the victim and their families."

In the first episode, they look at the 2001 conviction of up-and-coming rapper McKinley "Mac" Phipps Jr. who, at age 24 and with no prior criminal record, was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a 19-year-old at a nightclub outside of New Orleans, despite a lack of forensic evidence and another man's confession. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Anderson said he and Lewkowicz work with a team of investigators to take a fresh look at the old cases. "We take the key points the family feels got the person convicted and those are we highlight,'' he said. "We want to help those wrongly convicted. We do a completely independent investigation , looking at the original investigation, the court case and the actual conviction. We come back to the family members and tell them whether we feel it's wrong or right. Sometimes giving people that closure helps them to process things."

If they believe there was a wrongful conviction in the case, they will connect the family with the means to pursue legal remedy.

Asked if his task on Reasonable Doubt contradicted what he spent years doing as a homicide investigator - putting bad guys behind bars - Anderson said he sees the end result as the same. "I really feel as though I'm doing the exact same thing - finding the truth and getting justice,'' he said.

Anderson takes that seriously. A clip from one episode shows him in tears as he addresses a convict's parents, and tells them, "I recently retired as a detective in Birmingham. I spent long days and long nights. I was hardly ever at home. I missed a lot of important family time. And I did it because I believed I was working for right. And I still believe that, but frankly, this case has shaken me to my core."

The investigators traveled to multiple cities, including New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York and Baltimore. Initially slated to film six episodes, Investigation Discovery officials added four more after they reviewed the first six. "We've gotten a lot of good feedback,'' said Anderson who, incidentally, was part of massive layoffs at the railroad company last month.

"I'm excited about it,'' he said. "Helping someone, that's the ultimate goal. I think we have helped quite a few this first season. That makes it all worth it."

Anderson won't join the cast and crew in California Wednesday for the premiere's red carpet event. "That's not me,'' he said. "I really want to be here with my family."

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