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The new Netflix docu-series "The Pharmacist" takes a gripping look at a Louisiana pharmacist's hunt to avenge the death of his son – which ultimately led to his discovery of a pharmaceutical company's role in America's still-raging opioid epidemic.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
But although the series focuses intently on Dan Schneider's crusade against Purdue Pharma, the first episode focuses squarely on the 1999 death of his son, Danny Schneider Jr., during an apparent drug deal gone wrong
But the series breaks from many other true crime documentaries with a somewhat surprising twist: Jeffery Hall – Danny's killer – appears as one of the documentary's many talking heads to provide context about the elder Schneider's investigation and ultimately his own arrest and conviction.
In the first episode, Schneider talks movingly about his family and Danny growing up. He takes pains to highlight the apparently happy life the Schneider family enjoyed, supported by his job as a pharmacist.
The first episode of the documentary also explores the crack epidemic and New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward as an epicenter of the drug crisis in the region – spliced with family videos of the Schneider family at the time.
"We had a very happy life together," Schneider told the Times-Picayune in 2017. "Then the nightmare happened."
The Schneider's recount hearing about how Danny was found shot to death in his truck in the Lower 9th Ward, and the police had no apparent leads pointing toward his killer.
"The day after, me and my wife stayed in bed all day. We thought about committing suicide as a family. We actually thought about it. 'Cause we just couldn't see a future," Dan Schneider grimly recounts in the series.
But Schneider did not give up. Unsatisfied with a police investigation he felt was not making enough progress, he began investigating his son's killing himself.
The documentary points to the reputation of corruption that plagued the New Orleans Police Department at the time as a rationale for Schneider launching his own investigation; he also recorded police officers he interacted with, who frequently dismiss Danny's death in the tapes.
"Through the spring and summer of 1999, he walked the streets of the Lower 9th Ward alone, searching for a witness. He prayed at local churches and spoke at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He learned the names of neighborhood drug dealers, and even approached a few for help," NOLA.com reported in 2017. Interviewees in the documentary who lived in the Lower 9th Ward recalled how they ended up helping Schneider with his personal investigation.
Eventually, Schneider's efforts and the police investigation led him to 15-year-old named Jeffery Hall, who was first identified as a witness to his son's killing. Hall offered up testimony that he was meeting with Danny for a drug deal and witnessed him get gunned down by a gangster named Scarface.
But Hall's story wasn't the break in the case Schneider hoped it would be: the man Hall identified as the shooter was actually in prison at the time of Danny's death, leading Hall to be discounted as a witness while Schneider continued his investigation.
But his dogged investigation – including cold-calling residents of the Lower 9th Ward – eventually led him to another witness, Shane Madding, who lived across the street from the site of the shooting and remembered everything from the night of Danny's death.
Madding is the key witness referenced in a 2017 Times-Picayune story on the case, but wasn't named at the time.
The woman told Schneider the shocking truth: Hall wasn't just a witness – he was Danny's killer and the son of her best friend. The documentary features archived tape of Schneider speaking with Madding, where he stammers in disbelief at the revelation.
"Not only did I find out that Jeffery was the killer but he had betrayed me. He had lied to me. It sounds petty, but that almost bothered me as much. I trusted him. He was gonna help me. And he was the killer," Schneider recounts in the docu-series.
The documentary itself builds the reveal of Jeffery as the killer as a twist for those unfamiliar with the story, only identifying Hall as a "Lower 9th Ward resident" when he is first introduced onscreen.
However, it took months before Schneider convinced Madding to give an official statement to police. She was ultimately placed in witness protection due to threats to her life.
As a result of Madding's testimony, Hall was arrested and ended up pleading guilty to manslaughter – with the story of his trial taking up the first half of the docu-series' second episode. Hall was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2000 and served 13 years.
Today, Hall is out of prison and is interviewed by the documentarians extensively in the first and second episodes. He speaks in the second episode about how he tried to change himself in prison and after his release.
"I took that time and tried to better myself with it. I finished school. Put thought into how it could have been prevented, and I worked on anger management. But it's still an everyday struggle for me because I ask this to myself often: 'How do I continue to move forward when I know I did wrong?' Wish I could change it. But I can't," Hall says in the documentary.
"I got him the right way," Schneider tearfully recounts in the documentary, pointing to how no one else was killed or hurt because of his personal investigation.
"The Pharmacist" is now available to stream on Netflix.
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