When faced with the demands of daily journalism, it’s tough to track a story over a long period of time. That’s why we’re impressed with the following stories, which showcase the work of reporters and photographers who persistently pursued stories that began years ago.
A dubious case
When Lebrew Jones was convicted of the brutal murder of New York City prostitute Michaelanne Hall in 1989, journalism student Christine Young questioned his guilt. Young, who now reports for the Times Herald-Record in New York’s Hudson Valley, never gave up investigating the murder. For “I Didn’t Do that Murder: Lebrew Jones and the Death of Micki Hall,” she pulled together an amazing amount of evidence pointing to Jones’ innocence. Her research prompted the DA’s office to reopen the case. The tremendous multimedia package, produced by John Pertel, featured videos that accompanied each story segment along with a timeline of the case, crime scene map, links to the case files and a “where are they now” of the key players.
Blowing the whistle
Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry of the Seattle Times looked back to the start of the decade to find an overlooked story. Their outstanding series, “Victory and Ruins,” investigated the troubled lives of the University of Washington football team that won the Rose Bowl in 2001:
An unprecedented look behind the scenes — based largely on documents unavailable at the time — reveals a disturbing level of criminal conduct and hooliganism by the players on that team.
Former coach Rick Neuheisel and athletic director Barbara Hedges accepted most of it, demanding little discipline or accountability from their athletes. And other community institutions, including prosecutors, police, judges and the media, went along.
The farm meets the subdivision
Six years ago, photographer Scott Strazzante chronicled the dismantling of a family farm on the outskirts of metropolitan Chicago. Last year Strazzante revisited the same plot of land where a subdivision now stands. With “Another Country” in the Chicago Tribune Magazine, he brilliantly juxtaposed pictures he took of the disappearing rural life with photos of the suburban present. A farmer standing next to his tractor by a crumbling barn was contrasted with a plastic farmer and barn on a birthday cake. The farmer driving his tractor through a field was pictured opposite a young girl pushing her toy lawnmower across a plush lawn. A white pickup truck holding cattle went in one direction while a school bus drove in the other.
Warming cold cases
Matt Hanley of the Aurora Beacon News reached back four decades to report an interesting series on unsolved local murders. For example, the fourth installment probed the 1979 killing of 19-year-old Kathy Halle. Here, North Aurora Sgt. Steve Van Loan explained why he’s still chasing the case:
“First, I’m a cop,” Van Loan said. “You got a bad guy out there who hasn’t been prosecuted. Second, I’m a parent, and someday I’d like to know what happened.”
A few months ago, Van Loan submitted some DNA evidence from Halle’s murder to the state crime lab. There’s always a chance it can finally lead to an answer.
Some of Hanley’s cases go back to the 1960s, but sometimes new publicity can help solve old crimes. www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews, and do a search for “cold cases.”
Failing the disabled
In 2000, Oregon closed its notorious Fairview Training Center for the “feeble-minded” and replaced it with community-based programs. Eight years later, Michelle Roberts of The Oregonian revealed what has happened to developmentally disabled residents under state care since the closing. Her special report, “After Fairview,” showed that the community-based programs often are little better than Fairview. During the past seven years, one of every five clients in state-licensed foster or group homes was a victim of at least one serious instance of abuse or neglect. At least 14 died after workers failed to provide necessary care.
Clients have choked on food, suffered violent injuries or become ill with treatable health problems that caregivers ignored or missed. …One foster care worker buckled an electric dog collar around the neck of an autistic man, zapping him repeatedly to control him. Another caregiver punished a client with cold showers and attacks by her dog.