Eleventh Annual Thurgood Marshall Awards Announced


Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H Keynotes
11th Annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards at National Press Club

L-R, Mike Farrell, Award Winners: Gary Fields, Alan Johnson, Eleanor Hayes,
Maurice Possley, Nicholas Trenticosta (on behalf of The Angolite)

WASHINGTON, DC – The Death Penalty Information Center honored journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Columbus Dispatch, and the Ohio News Network during its 11th Annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards at the National Press Club on June 28, 2007. A special award recognizing the years of contribution to journalism by the staff of The Angolite, a prison magazine, was also presented. The awards honor those journalists who have made an exceptional contribution to the understanding of problems associated with capital punishment.

Award-winning actor and human rights advocate Mike Farrell offered the keynote speech during the awards luncheon. Farrell, who recently authored “Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist,” is best known for his years as Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the television series M*A*S*H. This year’s award-winning entries dealt with subjects such as possible innocence, a wrongful execution in Texas, and the forced medication of a mentally ill man on death row.

Gary Fields was this year’s recipient of the Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award for Print Journalism. His Wall Street Journal article, “Criminal Mind,” explored the legal and moral controversy surrounding the administration of the death penalty to the mentally ill. In “Criminal Mind,” Fields profiled Gregory Thompson, a Tennessee man on death row for 22 years for the fatal stabbing of a young woman. His reporting uncovered that while Thompson is now kept more or less sane through the forced administration of a daily drug cocktail, he had suffered from mental illness in the past and was most certainly mentally impaired at the time of his crime. The story generated tremendous reader response. After it was published, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen cited Thompson’s case and Fields’ article in his column about the absurdity of the death penalty system. Fields has covered criminal justice issues for the Wall Street Journal for seven years. His career also includes ten years with USA Today, where he conducted an important study with fellow writer Richard Willing on geographical disparities in the death penalty. Fields has also reported for the Washington Times, the Times of Shreveport, LA, and the Natchitoches Times of LA. In addition to this year’s Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award, Fields has received the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, the NABJ Journalist of the Year Award and the New York Bar Association’s Crystal Gavel Award. He was honored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness for a variety of stories he authored in 2006, and contributed to the series of stories in the September 12, 2001 edition of the Wall Street Journal, which received the Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category.

A convergence media project featuring the case of Ohio death row inmate John Spirko has been selected for this year’s Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award for Broadcast Journalism. Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch teamed with Eleanor Hayes, Amy Rogan, Jamie Walters, and Jeff Gostomski of the Ohio News Network to produce a multi-media news package investigating Spirko’s innocence claim. Their work resulted in extensive coverage in the Columbus Dispatch, a one-hour ONN television special, and a news story on Columbus’s local CBS affiliate. The collaboration between Johnson and the Ohio News Network provided the most expansive coverage of a capital case in Ohio’s history. The news team obtained the first broadcast interview in recent years with Spirko, who has had five gubernatorial reprieves since he was sentenced to death. They were also able to secure the first interviews in 20 years with the family of the victim in Spirko’s case, Betty Jane Mottinger. Spirko’s case continues to make headlines in the state, and he now faces a January, 2007 execution date. Accepting this award on behalf of the news team were Alan Johnson and Eleanor Hayes. Johnson has been with the Columbus Dispatch for 23-years. Over the past decade, he has become Ohio’s leading death penalty reporter, covering nearly all of Ohio’s 26 executions since 1999 and a variety of other capital punishment-related stories. Starting in 2003, Johnson authored a two-year series of stories that eventually led to the release of Timothy Howard and Gary Lamar James, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder they did not commit. The case led to the largest wrongful conviction settlement in Ohio history. Johnson is the winner of several Associated Press and other journalism awards, and has previously worked for newspapers in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio. When Hayes joined the ONN news team in June 2005, she brought 17 years of experience in broadcast television. Her work in the television industry has earned her top awards, including three Emmy awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She has also received national NABJ, UPI and AP reporting honors and was a 2003 inductee into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Chicago Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley were the recipients of this year’s Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award for Posthumous Exploration of Innocence. Their groundbreaking three-part series, “Did One Man Die for Another Man’s Crime,” presented compelling evidence that Texas may have taken an innocent man’s life when it executed Carlos DeLuna. Mills and Possley’s investigation documented Texas’ prosecution and execution of Carlos De Luna for the 1983 murder of a gas station clerk in Corpus Christi. Their review of the case found that DeLuna’s conviction and execution were compromised by shaky eyewitness identification, sloppy police work, and a failure to pursue another man who told friends and family he was the real killer. The articles were the result of more than nine months of reporting in Texas and several other states involving dozens of interviews and review of thousands of pages of court records. Their work also inspired an ABC “World News Tonight” television news segment about the case. Steve Mills has focused primarily on the death penalty and miscarriages of justice since he began work at the Chicago Tribune in 1994. His past work includes several series on capital convictions co-authored with former Tribune writer Ken Armstrong, and two more recent series on flaws in the penal system, “Cops and Confessions” and “The Legacy of Wrongful Convictions,” both co-authored with Possley. Mills is a graduate of the University of California and Northwestern University, and wrote for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle prior to joining the Tribune. Maurice Possley has been a reporter since 1972 and has been at the Chicago Tribune since 1984, covering a variety of criminal cases, including those of Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Possley’s work was cited by former Illinois Governor George Ryan as playing a role in his decision to institute a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois in 2000. Possley is a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago and has been a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Montana and the University of Alaska. Both Mills and Possley are past recipients of Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards. The pair has also been honored with a number of other prestigious honors, including the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award, a Peter Lisagor Award, and the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Journalism.

Over the past half century, the staff of The Angolite, Louisiana State Penitentiary’s prison magazine, has cast an investigative eye on the criminal justice system, covering issues ranging from prisoners’ rights to capital punishment. Funding its own miniscule operating budget through 3,200 paid subscribers, the publication has offered its staffers a path toward rehabilitation while winning several national journalism awards and instigating reforms in Louisiana’s penal system. The Angolite was first published in 1952, during a turbulent period when Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, was officially labeled the worst prison in the nation. In 1975, former Deputy Director of Corrections C. Paul Phelps granted the magazine greater freedom in publishing as a means to foster improved relationships between inmates and authorities and to reduce prison violence. At that time, he allowed editor Wilbert Rideau to “print whatever he could prove.” Since then, first Rideau and now current editor Kerry Myers have led the magazine through decades of hard-hitting coverage of penal issues, providing a voice to inmates and promoting reforms in the corrections system. For example, the staff’s investigation into the botched 1983 electric-chair execution of Robert Wayne Williams helped put an end to the use of electrocution as the method of capital punishment in Louisiana. A more recent May/June 2006 feature by staff capital punishment expert Lane Nelson chronicled the history and realities behind capital punishment while shedding light on various medical and moral controversies surrounding it. With a circulation base ranging from criminal justice scholars to government agencies to inmates themselves, The Angolite is now considered one of the nation’s leading prison magazines. The magazine has won various awards including the Kennedy, Polk and Silver Gavel Award, and has been a National Magazine Award finalist four times. Thurgood Marshall Journalism Special Award honors the staff for their commitment to covering criminal justice issues and for their enduring contribution to the nation’s death penalty debate. Accepting the award on behalf of the The Angolite’s staff was Nicholas Trenticosta, Director of the Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans. He is a graduate of the Louisiana State University Law School and has devoted his career to representing persons facing the death penalty. Trenticosta is an Adjunct Professor at the Loyola University School of Law, and has lectured extensively at death penalty conferences and training programs throughout the country. Along with Susana Herrero, he staffs the El Salvador Capital Assistance Project. He has represented two clients in the United States Supreme Court, including Curtis Kyles, an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted and freed from prison after serving thirteen years on death row.

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