Journalists from The Detroit News and Sterling Heights Television have won top honors in the State Bar of Michigan's 32nd Annual Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice. The awards are presented annually to foster greater public understanding of the inherent values of our legal and judicial system.
Detroit News journalists Norman Sinclair, Ronald J. Hansen, and Melvin Claxton won in the print category for their three-part series entitled "Sexual Abuse Behind Bars." The series detailed the reporters' findings during a five-month investigation into male prison guards sexually abusing female inmates–a continuing problem in state correctional facilities despite a promise the Michigan Department of Corrections made in 1999 to the U.S. Justice Department to enact major reforms in light of rampant incidences of abuse.
The 2006 broadcast category winner was a cable TV entry about the use of DNA evidence in Michigan courts produced by Matt Phillips and Charlie Langton of Sterling Heights Television. The feature introduces viewers to Ken Wyniemko, who spent nine years in prison for a crime he didn't commit before being released due to DNA evidence that was miraculously saved from a trial laced with legal errors. The story addresses the reluctance of Michigan's legislature to mandate the use of DNA evidence. Entitled the "Price of Innocence," the show aired on four episodes of Legally Speaking–a public affairs program that is a co-production of the Macomb County Bar Association and Sterling Heights Television. Legally Speaking is sponsored by a grant from the Macomb County Bar Foundation.
Journalists representing four Michigan newspapers earned honorable mention status this year. They are Jason Alley of the Southgate News-Herald, for his continuing coverage of an attorney who falsified hundreds of court documents; Detroit Free Press journalist David Ashenfelter, for two features on Detroit-area people convicted of crimes they claim they didn't commit and how their lives proceeded down divergent paths; Ken Kolker of the Grand Rapids Press, who examined the investigation into the 1993 murder of a teenage girl, and how the discovery of an old police bulletin in a mound of evidence in 2004 led them to a repeated sex offender who had moved into the area just months before the girl's disappearance; and the Kalamazoo Gazette team of Rosemary Parker, Ed Finnerty, Barbara Walters, and Bill Krasean for their eight-part series on the spiraling methamphetamine problem in southwestern Michigan.
State Bar of Michigan President Thomas W. Cranmer will present the McCree Awards during the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday, April 22, 2006, at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.