A team of Detroit Free Press journalists has won top honors in the State Bar of Michigan's 39th Annual Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice for their series uncovering the failure of the Michigan Department of Corrections to properly supervise some of the most violent offenders in the state. SBM President Bruce Courtade will present the 39th annual McCree Awards at the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on April 21 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing. The McCree Awards are given each year to foster greater public understanding of the inherent values of our legal and judicial system.
Detroit Free Press reporters L.L. Brasier and Gina Damron created a detailed series based on a database they built that included all violent crimes committed by parolees and probationers between Jan. 1, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2012. During this time, 88 parolees and probationers were suspected of, charged with, or convicted of 95 murders. Their investigation discovered that despite the MDOC having an annual budget of more than $2 billion, dozens of the most violent offenders weren't outfitted with court-ordered electronic tethers, and others weren't sent back to prison for new crimes or failing drug tests. The Free Press also reported on their difficulties in obtaining information from the MDOC—they attempted to charge the Free Press more than $260,000 for documents, and then stalled for more than seven months in providing documents once the Free Press had paid more than $1,500 in copying fees. In response to their reports, the MDOC fired or suspended 12 corrections agents for not following procedures. The series can be viewed on the Free Press website.
The Detroit News and WXYZ-TV also won McCree Awards. Detroit News reporter Mike Martindale received a McCree Award for a series of reports on Michigan State Police crime labs. He reported that police agencies handling DNA found in rape and murder cases were struggling to meet the standards of their national accreditation group and had received two extensions to meet their benchmarks. He also discovered thousands of rape kits found untested in Detroit had been turned over to the Michigan State Police, and still had not been tested. Then he obtained individual lab inspection reports for every police lab throughout Michigan. The Michigan State Police set up forensic training for troopers and set up new classes to teach officers across the state best practices for identifying and collecting evidence for criminal cases. The labs became reaccredited. Martindale's series can be seen here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
WXYZ-TV investigative reporter Ross Jones, and a team composed of Ann Mullen, Johnny Sartin, Randy Lundquist, and Newton Glasby put together an exhaustive probe into the short sale of then-Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway's $1.5 million suburban Detroit home. After putting two homes she owned into her step-children's names, Hathaway was approved for a short sale by her bank on the suburban Detroit home, which saved her $600,000 in mortgage debt. The WXYZ investigation led the FBI to investigate Hathaway's transaction. Hathaway resigned from the court and pleaded guilty to bank fraud. She faces up to 18 months in federal prison, a $30,000 fine, up to $90,000 in restitution, and three to five years on supervised release. The WXYZ investigation can be seen here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Four Honorable Mention awards were also given out in this year's McCree Award contest. Detroit Free Press editorial writer/columnist Jeff Gerritt earned one for "Criminal Negligence," a nine-part editorial-page series that examined the breakdown of Michigan's mental health system and its impact on the criminal justice system. Two MLive Media Group teams received honorable mention awards. The first team, composed of John Barnes, Heather Peters, John Agar, Gary Ridley, Brad Devereaux, Rex Hall Jr., Jonathan Oosting, and Tim Martin created a series called "Justified to Kill," examining Michigan's stand-your-ground laws and the long-lasting effects of self-defense killing. The second MLive Media team, composed of John Barnes, Jonathan Oosting, Tim Martin, Dave Eggert, and Brandon Howell examined enforcement of drunken driving laws across the state, and found widespread disparities in the application and enforcement of the laws. A Detroit Free Press Team, composed of Jennifer Dixon, Jim Schaefer, Kristi Tanner, Martha Thierry, Romain Blanquart, and Mandi Wright produced a series of reports on Michigan's inadequate enforcement of handicapped parking laws, resulting in a broken system that fails those who need it the most.
The Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice are named for one of the most venerable lawyers and judges in Michigan's history. During his remarkable career, Wade H. McCree Jr. served as a federal judge, University of Michigan law professor, and solicitor general of the United States. For more information about the awards, visit SBM McCree Awards.