Last night’s Lifetime movie Sins of the Preacher was “inspired by a true story,” which meant it was pretty likely to be boring. Let’s face it, real-life cases don’t usually have the crazy last-minute twists that have been showing up in the fictional Lifetime movies lately. This one was no exception. It was mostly underwhelming because the title preacher didn’t even show up very often to be evil. I mean, there was only one scene of creepy knife-licking. BORING.
The movie was based on the true crime book Deadly Little Secrets (not Dirty Little Secret, unfortunately) by Kathryn Casey, which explains the 2006 murder of Kari Baker at the hands of her husband, Texas minister Matt Baker. The death was initially ruled a suicide, but the case was further investigated and Baker was found guilty. Names have been changed for the movie. Otherwise I’m sure they would have added a colon and a subtitle, which is one of Lifetime’s favorite things.
At the start of the movie, police respond to minister Andrew Martin’s (Christopher Gartin) 911 call about his wife Debbie’s (Bree Williamson) death. He explains that he went out to pick up a video and came back to find her dead with a typed suicide note on the dresser. Whoa, hold on there for a second. He went to pick up a video? In 2006? Even if we assume people were still renting movies then, shouldn’t it at least have been a DVD? Did he travel back in time ten years to get it? I’m going to be honest here. This almost ruined the entire movie for me.
Andrew claims Debbie was depressed over the death of their daughter four years ago. There’s a sketchy timeline and other damaging evidence pointing to foul play, but the judge is just like, “Whatever, looks like a suicide.” In between slow-motion memories of her daughter playing with bubbles in the backyard, Debbie’s mother Susan (Gail O’Grady) accepts that it was a suicide and ignores all the red flags surrounding Andrew. That is, until her sister Kathy (Paula Plum) and niece Laura (Sarah Cote) are all, “Hey, we think Andrew’s a murderer” over a pleasant afternoon meal of water in mason jars. Initially, Susan refuses to believe it, but once she catches Andrew shamelessly throwing a box of Debbie’s photos in the garbage can, things start to add up. It also helps that her niece has a story about Andrew licking a huge knife and miming grabbing her boobs when Debbie wasn’t looking. Yep, that’ll do it.
So the three women (Susan, her sister and her niece) start their own investigation to prove Andrew murdered Debbie. This includes using a very tiny, sad-looking bulletin board with sticky notes attached to it. They’ve clearly never watched a Lifetime movie themselves. Through their investigation, they discover that Andrew was spending time with a divorcee named Brianna Daniels (Taylor Cole) around the time of Debbie’s death, and — surprise surprise — they’re seeing each other now. Susan also goes to visit Debbie’s grief counselor, who’s like, “Yeah, she found ground up pills and said she thought her husband was trying to kill her. Sorry for your loss.” Gee, thanks for the info.
Susan and her practically mute husband Tom (Tom Kemp) hire a lawyer (James McDaniel) to get the cause of death changed and reopen the investigation. This is how we learn that Andrew had sexual assault charges brought against him by a woman he worked with at the Y. Can you tell yet that this guy isn’t the good Christian he’d have everyone believe? I’m starting to get that feeling. So are the people who work with him at the church, who fire him. This leads him to form his own congregation in a sad basement somewhere with ugly folding chairs. Meanwhile, Andrew’s mistress Brianna is starting to freak out about the whole thing and decides to break it off with him. This leads him to punch the window of his own makeshift church. Well, that’s not going to help you at all, buddy.
Thanks to public support for Susan’s cause, including a lady giving out bumper stickers in a parking lot that read “Love trumps evil,” Debbie’s body is finally exhumed and an autopsy done that reveals signs of suffocation but nothing definitive. This gets Susan’s husband Tom to finally say more than three words, and he really goes all out with the screaming. You go, Tom!
Even though this movie exists in a universe where people still rent videos, Andrew’s work computer proves very useful to proving he was involved in Debbie’s death. In addition to some decidedly unpreachery pornographic images, they discover that he looked up how to get sleeping pills without a prescription. This leads the judge to reluctantly change the cause of death to “undecided,” and a trial begins. Andrew has a lady lawyer with a tight bun, so for a minute there I thought all hope was lost, but luckily the prosecution brings mistress Brianna in to testify that Andrew told her exactly how he killed Debbie and made it look like a suicide. First rule of being a creepy wife-murderer: don’t give your mistress a play-by-play of how you did it.
Turns out Andrew handcuffed Debbie to the bed all sexy-like after making her groggy with sleeping pills. Then he smothered her with a pillow (and also his hands when the pillow wasn’t effective) and called 911. When the jury goes away to deliberate, Susan makes sure to get a moving speech in under the wire. She confronts Andrew in the courtroom and talks about how he’s the devil and all that jazz. She also says, “Love trumps evil.” Hey, that’s bumper sticker lady’s line! Needless to say, he’s found guilty and sentenced to 65 years in prison.
I just didn’t get much out of this movie. It suffered from a bit of a Titanic problem in that you knew how everything was going to happen — or could at least predict it — since it was based on a true story. There was also so much focus on the mother-in-law that the sinful preacher who inspired the title kind of got lost. I much prefer Lifetime’s totally fictional movies (although the ones based on true stories can still be pretty fictional) because they allow more room for ridiculous twists and extreme characters. And hipster polygamists.