“Hailey Dean Month” has come to an end at Hallmark, and the series has my vote for the most solid show on Hallmark. I may not be in love with any of the characters, except perhaps Fincher (Viv Leacock) with his food truck obsession, but the series is consistently good, delivering interesting cases solved by a competent all-around team. Aside from that ever-present pointless Nancy Grace cameo (Grace created the book series), there are few lows, and the two multi-episode arcs have really fed the characters and pushed the story forward.
The latest three films all deal with the impending release of convicted murderer Clayton Morrel (Bradley Stryker). Ten years ago, Hailey (Kellie Martin) worked on the case with lead chair Paulina (Lauren Holly), and both continue to be haunted by the decision not to use a key witness in the trial. The move ensured a conviction but also reduced Clayton’s sentence. Now that he’s out of prison and has a book deal, a lot of familiar faces are making their anger known.
Needless to say, it catches everyone by surprise when Clayton is found dead in his own home, murdered by a stab wound to the heart. Well, not everyone because the killer likely knew the victim and saw a chance to avenge the original victim, Clayton’s wife. His former sister-in-law, Amelia (Vanessa Walsh), is high on the list of suspects. Not only did she have motive, she also had access to the house. Clayton’s second wife, Naomi (Barbara Patrick), is not that forthcoming when interrogated by the police either. Some less obvious suspects include Clayton’s lawyer, Derek, and his friend, Frank (Matty Finochio), both of whom were at odds with Clayton but perhaps didn’t have reason enough to kill him.
So again, it surprises all those involved when Paulina, currently the district attorney, is publicly accused of the murder, having been seen with the victim and at the crime scene on multiple occasions. Hailey is convinced of her friend and former colleague’s innocence, but that’s not enough to save Paulina from a few nights in jail. She and her friend, Fincher, a detective in the DA’s office, do their own investigating while her boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), the coroner, tries to help with forensic evidence.
This case doesn’t compete at all with the one involving Hailey’s fiancé, Will. I still get chills from the build-up and reveal and was not nearly as emotionally invested in the life and death of Clayton Morrel. Still, Killer Sentence is a captivating mystery and had me guessing to the end. There are quite a few characters to keep track of and some intricate side stories that complicate matters, and the situation with Alex (Aaron Craven) from the DA’s office adds to the intrigue but also sows more confusion. The one ray of light in this rather dark episode is Hailey and Jonas’s anniversary dinner. They can’t seem to agree on their special night, but it all ends in a way that leaves you hoping for more to come.
Highlight for spoilers: Frank, Clayton’s ghostwriter and friend to Clayton and his first wife, Tamara, is the killer. Though he stood by Clayton in public, he knew or at least suspected that Clayton had committed the original murder. Hailey suspected Frank after seeing the “Gone Fishing” sign at the bookstore, the same one that neighbor Walter had from his surprise free fishing vacation, paid for by Frank who wanted all witnesses out of the way. She also guessed his affections for Tamara based on passages about her in Clayton’s book. Frank targeted Paulina specifically because he felt her actions at the trial were the reason Clayton was released early instead of serving life in prison. After kidnapping her, he planned on staging her suicide, but Hailey and Paulina come in with some last minute heroics and save their own damn asses. Also, Jonas proposes to Hailey. She says…yes.
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Lucia Walters, Lauren Holly, Bradley Stryker, Barbara Patrick, Vanessa Walsh, Matty Finochio
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries