Fifth Annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards Announced


Monday, September 24, 2001 
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"Judgment Day" series and
"Witness to an Execution" radio program take honors

Center to also honor career achievements of
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist JIM DWYER

  WASHINGTON, DC -- An exceptional eight-part series titled "Judgment Day" by John Shiffman of The Tennessean and the critically-acclaimed radio program "Witness to an Execution" by producers David Isay and Stacy Abramson of Sound Portraits Productions in New York City will receive honors this Wednesday during the Death Penalty Information Center's (DPIC) Fifth Annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The Center will also recognize the outstanding career achievements of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Dwyer of The New York Times. The awards are presented for excellence in portraying and analyzing problems associated with capital punishment.

     This year's Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award recipients will join special guests John R. MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper's Magazine, Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project, Barbara Bradley of National Public Radio, and former USA Today editorial writer Graham Dower for the luncheon event.

    "DPIC is honored to recognize these journalists for their significant contributions in educating the public about capital punishment," said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of DPIC. "News coverage of capital punishment has shed new light on an issue which had been mired in polarized division for years."

Left to right: Barry Scheck, Barbara Bradley, John R. MacArthur, Richard Dieter, David Isay, Jim Dwyer, John Shiffman, Graham Dower

    Shiffman will receive this year's print journalism honor for his eight-part series on the first Tennessee execution in 40 years. The series weaves together the perspectives of key members from the prosecuting and defense teams, a judge involved in the case, as well as others directly involved in the execution, in a narrative that recounts an historic day in the state. Shiffman's reports introduce the public to the largely unknown warriors of Tennessee's capital bar and lay out the issues and conflicts these individuals face. The series also raised the level of discourse for future discussions of capital punishment in the state.

   The broadcast media award will go to Isay and Abramson, producers for Sound Portraits Productions. The two collaborated to create "Witness to an Execution," a radio program that tells the story of men and women who participate in, carry out, and witness multiple executions as part of their work at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. With the unprecedented access and trust of the prison staff, Isay and Abramson's first-hand account of what happens inside the nation's most active execution facility garnered widespread acclaim and generated more than a dozen editorials and opinion/editorial pieces around the country - including two in The New York Times in the week of its premier National Public Radio broadcast.

    The Center will bestow a special award on Dwyer of The New York Times for his distinguished accomplishments in raising public awareness concerning capital punishment. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and one of the authors of "Actual Innocence" - a book that has made an indelible mark on the nation's death penalty debate - Dwyer is one of the nation's most outstanding investigative journalists.
 The Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards are named in honor of the late Supreme Court Justice who believed that people would oppose the death penalty once they understood how it works in practice. "The question with which we must deal," Justice Marshall wrote, "is not whether a  substantial proportion of American citizens would today, if polled, opine that capital punishment is barbarously cruel, but whether they would find it to be so in light of all information presently available." The Marshall Awards are bestowed annually in the categories of print and broadcast journalism.

    The distinguished judges for this year's Awards were veteran writer, educator, and columnist Colman McCarthy,  formerly with the Washington Post,  and Dina Hellerstein, a communications expert and attorney who now serves as Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs at EMI Music in California.

    Among the previous winners of the Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards were the producers of the television series The Practice, ABC-TV's Nightline, documentary film-maker Jonathan Stack, and writers for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, and the North Carolina Independent.

    The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization which focuses its research on the problems of capital punishment in the United States. Entries for next year's awards must be published or produced in 2001, and should be submitted to the Death Penalty Information Center by January 31, 2002.

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