Hilarie Burton Morgan is on the case. The actress and advocate for justice digs deep on eight new cases in the upcoming episodes of True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here, SundanceTV's true-crime series where she puts the spotlight on murder cases in small-town America. Only ET exclusively premieres the gripping teaser trailer for the new episodes, which premieres Thursday, Sept. 1 and reveals the real-world impact the show has had -- especially in regards to one case in particular.
"I came into this show representing the everyman. I didn't go to law school, I'm not a journalist. I'm just some lady that has a lot of questions," the self-proclaimed true-crime enthusiast told ET over the phone on Thursday. "I live in a small town myself, and so it's my job to represent other small-town citizens who have questions about the way their judicial system is working. And I was astounded by the level of misconduct and corruption in the judicial system."
"We have encountered more disbarred lawyers and judges who have been taken off the bench. I think I didn't understand how frequent that was and how commonplace it was. And how, even after those people are taken out of positions of power, the cases that they played a part in are not reexamined. And so what we're left with are a number of innocent people in prison, but also, a lot of guilty people out there walking the street," she explained.
That's where Hilarie and the show come in. In the case of Devonia Inman, whose story was featured on It Couldn't Happen Here last September after the Georgia Innocence Project picked up his case, it meant being exonerated after spending 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. (Inman had been convicted in 1998 for the murder and armed robbery of a Taco Bell manager.)
"There was DNA evidence sitting there for a decade that proved that he did not commit this crime. And his lawyers and the [Georgia] Innocence Project lawyers did so much work fighting for him, and so we had the really wonderful opportunity to come in and be a megaphone," Hilarie said of the show's role in amplifying Inman's story. "Right as the attorney general and right as the attorney general's office were making the decision whether or not they were going to let him out, we had this amazing outpouring of anger and support -- disbelief from the community. There were letter-writing campaigns and there were petitions signed, and what that signaled to elected officials is, 'Oh, the people see that there was a screw-up here. We should probably set things straight.'"
"The judicial system is never going to self-correct. The only time that it corrects their work is if we, as citizens, say to them, 'What you did there is wrong. Fix it.' Our show makes that the platform for every story we tell: 'We see what you did here. It's wrong. Fix it,'" she said.
That's just one success story from the show, which Hilarie hopes will continue as the new episodes begin to roll out next month. She revealed that her partner, The Walking Dead's Jeffrey Dean Morgan, often serves as a guide for her when it comes to how impactful the stories will be for the viewer.
"My husband's the first person I show a rough cut to, and judging his reaction, I know whether or not we have a good cut. And he has stood up and screamed at the television. He's teared up," she shared. "We just covered a case... We have a man on death row. They're going to kill him if we don't do something, and I'm horrified by it. I hope other people are horrified and speak up. There are never enough advocates. And so, if we can use a television show and a viewership to show up in mass numbers, awesome. It takes true-crime programming and it makes it valuable. We have other cases where people who are absolutely guilty and have been found guilty in civil trials are still walking the street because law enforcement refuses to prosecute them because they're pillars of the community. That's outrageous. For the victims' families, what a slap in the face."
"We try to balance not only the locations of where we are filming because small towns exist everywhere in America, but we also try to balance the subject matter. We have a gay rights case that is very near to my heart that I really hope we can muster some support for," Hilarie previewed. "And a lot of domestic violence shows up in this season because it's still a situation in the United States that is either misunderstood or not handled appropriately, but we have a lot of work to do in that world."
Of course, she can't help but get emotionally invested in the families and the stories she's engrossed herself in. As she explains it, that's part of what makes the show unique from other true-crime programming.
"I don't pretend to be a journalist. There are certain rules you have to apply when you go to college for that. I'm literally just some lady that goes into people's living rooms and wants to hear their side of the story because what I've learned in this process is a jury doesn't hear all the sides of the story," she said, acknowledging that she doesn't "separate" herself from the emotionality of it. "I've become Facebook friends with families that we interact with and they are people who I care a lot about... Our case in Tennessee from last year, Greg Lance, an innocent man in prison for a double homicide he didn't commit -- since the airing of our episode, two new people have come forward and signed affidavits saying, 'He didn't do it.' If we can continually bang the drum, I'm happy to be emotionally involved. Some people care about sports, I care about this. You've got to really pick and choose where you put your energy, and this is worth it."
Hilarie and the team behind True Crime Story: it Couldn't Happen Here are also setting up a resource guide online via Twitter (@icchstories), where those interested in learning more about the cases covered on the show, as well as advocacy groups and justice seekers (like Color of Change, the National Women's Law Center or the Georgia Innocence Project), and how they can help, can go to for guidance. "What we would love is for people to follow our social media so that they can have a landing page just to find all those resources. We want to make it as easy as possible for everybody," she said.
New episodes of True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here premiere Thursday, Sept. 1 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SundanceTV with the first two episodes streaming on AMC+.