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Home > Publications > Quill > Beyond the blotter: Crime stories with a difference


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Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Beyond the blotter: Crime stories with a difference

Jon Marshall and Brian Summers

Most crime stories provide the basic information we need to know about the crime, arrest, trial and sentencing. But it’s nice sometimes to break out of the mold and tell what happened in a different way. Here are some examples from reporters who have written about crimes through the eyes of the people involved.

The witness

Ashley Harrell’s “Snitch” in SF Weekly profiles a woman determined to testify against a gang murderer even though she risks losing everything she has, including her son and her life. Harrell does an amazing job of describing the agonizing decisions Deanna Johnson must make after she inadvertently witnesses a shooting. The story commands attention from the very start:

It’s 7 a.m. on April 16, and Deanna Johnson’s alarm clock is going off. She ignores it, and lies so still she could be mistaken for a corpse. She does not open her eyes. She tries not to think about anything. If a woman refuses to acknowledge that one of the most terrifying days of her life has arrived, then maybe it hasn’t.

www.sfweekly.com/2008-05-21/news/snitch

The killer

Calvin Trillin’s “The Color of Blood” in The New Yorker dissects a shooting from the point of view of the gunman. Trillin uses great details to describe the shooter:

John White is a serious gardener — a nurturer of daylilies and clematis, a planter of peel-bark birch trees — and someone who had always been proud, maybe even touchy, about his property. People who have been neighbors of the Whites tend to use the word “meticulous” in describing John White; so do people who have worked with him. He has described himself as “a doer” — someone too restless to sit around reading a book or watching television.... He’s done a lot of hunting — a pastime he was taught by his grandfather Napoleon White, whose family’s migration from Alabama apparently took place after a murderous attack by the Ku Klux Klan.

www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/03/03/

080303fa_fact_trillin

The detectives

Tim Madigan’s “To Catch a Killer” in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is a page-turner told from the perspective of the detectives trying to find the strangler of three young women. In this excerpt, detective Joe Thornton and officer G.R. Gray inspect the room where a body was found.

Thornton and Gray stood in the bedroom, trying to decide what to collect as evidence and what to leave. What about the plastic drinking glass on the floor? The Coors Light can in the bedroom trash? The pair of sunglasses on the bedroom floor? The appointment book found near Armida’s body? The two men decided they would take almost all of it.

www.star-telegram.com/killer

The victim

In 1970, 13-year-old John Hunt was assaulted by his doctor, a serial pedophile. Hunt, now an editor at The Hartford Courant, bravely tells what happened next in “Reardon Victim Goes Public, Blasts St. Francis Hospital.”

When I got home, I told my mother what he did to me. She got a lawyer and filed a formal complaint. The medical authorities assured us (Dr. George Reardon ) would be stopped. They lied.

The deluge of child pornography discovered last year behind a false wall in the basement of Reardon’s former home on Griswold Drive in West Hartford isn’t the only evidence to corroborate the horrors of the past four decades. Among the hidden reels of film and boxes of slides, West Hartford police also discovered a manila envelope, in a brown cardboard box, containing incriminating documents that, until a month ago, I did not know existed.

My name is on those documents.

www.courant.com/news/local/hc-

reardon0601.artjun01,0,5123420.story

The juror

In “Deciding If a Man Should Live or Die Is Soul-Wrenching Task for Jury,” Gilbert Gonzalez writing for the Tampa Tribune gives a first-person account of being on a jury that must choose whether to recommend sentencing a murderer to death.

We went back and forth reviewing the case law and instructions presented to us by the judge. We determined what aggravating factors existed in the case and weighed them against the many mitigating factors we also agreed existed in this matter.... We were passionate and descriptive, logical and formulaic, objective and fair. Yet, in the end, if there was one emotion that ran through my body, I would have to say it was dread.

www2.tbo.com/content/2008/mar/08/pa-deciding-if-a-man-should-live-or-die-is-soul-wr t

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