Christine Young's story about the wrongful conviction of Lebrew Jones and her role in uncovering the evidence that should, but has not yet, lead to a new trial for Jones -- breaks new ground in the use of web based interactive technology with classic investigative journalism. A fine piece of writing about the 1987 murder of a prostitute and the man-child who police persuaded to give a statement implicating himself in her murder --is supplemented by great video interviews of some of the key players, an interactive map of the crime scene, and archival video of Jones's father -- Rufus "Speedy" Jones -- the great Jazz drummer who played for Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other big-band legends. The fact that such a great story was produced by the Times Herald-Record -- a mid-sized paper covering the Hudson Valley area of New York -- and not the NY Times or The Washington Post -- makes the feat all the more impressive. In this age where newspapers are cutting staff to keep up the profits and fear abounds in the news industry that readers are getting their news from television, the internet, blogs, and sources other than print media, the Times Record-Herald has shown that it is possible to blend the new media and the old media with spectacular results.
Especially compelling are interviews of Lebrew's younger brother Chanel (describing how Lebrew did not have it in his gentle nature to commit such a brutal rape and murder) and Micki Hall's mother Lois discussing why she does not think Lebrew killed her daughter. The most compelling video segment, however, is the footage of Lebrew playing drums on the desk in the prison visiting room, superimposed on video of his father in his heyday. Kudos to the paper, to Christine, and to all of the other staff who worked on this terrific story, available on the net at:
Here's hoping that the New York Times and other New York media rally to Lebrew's cause and bring pressure on the Manhattan DA's office to do the right thing here by vacating Lebrew's conviction.
The Lansing State Journal just published its investigative autopsy of the wrongful conviction of Claude McCollum, "Guilty Until Proven Innocent." It is also a terrific piece of reporting with an interactive timeline of key events in the McCollum saga. The Journal retained experts to analyze the trial of McCollum, followed McCollum as he tries to adjust to life as a free man after spending nearly eighteen months incarcerated, and recommended ways in which the system can improve to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring. The video footage of McCollum speaks volumes about how difficult it is for someone of McCollum's limited intellectual abilities to find steady work and to gain some sense of financial independence. McCollum, described as a "drifter" in press accounts at the time of his arrest, seems to be drifting through his post-exoneration life, desperately looking for someone to lend him a helping hand not with a hand-out but with employment. Here's hoping that someone in the Lansing community is moved by the story and reaches out to Claude. http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage
Both stories speak volumes about the power of so-called confession evidence to a jury and just how vulnerable the mentally disabled are to police persuasion. Neither man actually confessed (Claude gave a hypothetical account of how he might have committed the crime if sleepwalking and Lebrew described how Hall committed suicide by beating herself to death with a rock) but juries accepted these ludicrous stories as evidence that the men were lying and convicted them even though the stories in both cases were uncorroborated and both men had what turned out to be excellent alibis.