Journalists from the Kalamazoo Gazette and Detroit Free Press won top honors in the State Bar of Michigan 34th Annual Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice. The awards are presented annually to foster greater public understanding of the legal and judicial system.
The Kalamazoo Gazette team of Kathy Jessup, Chris Killian, and Rebecca Pierce earned top honors for an investigation into a 2003 prostitution sting. The series prompted, among other events, an FBI probe into the city's Department of Public Safety.
Jim Schaefer and Joe Swickard of the Detroit Free Press were honored for "Fatal Euphoria," a series of articles centering on an illicit version of the painkiller fentanyl. The drug killed more than 300 people in metro Detroit alone. The series traced the drug from a Mexico City lab to a Detroit drug house to the homes of victims' survivors in the suburbs, and discussed steps authorities are taking to keep the substance off the streets.
L.L. Brasier, Brian Dickerson, Suzette Hackney, and John Wisely of the Detroit Free Press were also recognized for their coverage of the case of James Perry, the schoolteacher found guilty by an Oakland County jury of sexually assaulting two young boys. The journalists questioned whether the legal system had failed Perry, who was later granted a new trial, through a shoddy police investigation and a thin prosecution that hinged largely on circumstantial evidence.
Journalists earning honorable mention this year are Metro Times reporter Sandra Svoboda and former Flint Journal reporter Shantell M. Kirkendoll. Svoboda focused on a questionable conviction more than two decades ago, and efforts made by the imprisoned man's supporters to free him. Kirkendoll's series, "Mental Anguish," investigated how the mentally disabled are treated in the judicial system, showcased problems in the system, and highlighted ways to improve it.
The McCree Awards will be presented during the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday, April 27 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.