Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.
While researching the case of Bobby Joe Long, Farrington came across old true-crime TV shows on YouTube that mentioned the 17-year-old victim the killer let get away. Farrington knew that the woman, Lisa Noland, now 52, was a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He tried going through official channels to reach her, but no one got back to him. He turned to Facebook. He couldn’t find a Lisa Noland but did discover her husband’s page. Further digging there turned up Noland’s page – under a nickname. Farrington messaged her and set up a morning interview, but she kept postponing. Farrington didn’t give up. He texted her, assuring her he’d be happy to talk whenever she could. That didn’t happen until about 10 p.m. the night before the execution. By then, Farrington had already produced a compelling and well-received walk-up story featuring the killer’s ex-wife, who spoke of abuse and her regrets over the case in an emotional interview.
“I truly thank Deputy Noland for taking the time to tell me about a horrible event. The byline is mine, but the story is hers.”
Tweet from Brendan Farrington, Tallahassee correspondent
Farrington didn’t let the late hour or the fact that he already had a story stop him. He interviewed Noland for two hours. She revealed that the day before her abduction and rape by Long, she’d written a suicide note in anguish over years of sexual abuse by another culprit. She described to Farrington how, during Long’s attack, her will to live kicked in, and she intentionally left evidence behind while flattering him in hopes he wouldn’t kill her.
It was nearly midnight when their interview wrapped up. Farrington wrote the story, using the suicide note as his lede. The story moved the morning of the execution. That evening, Farrington spoke with Noland at the execution, included her reactions as he updated the story, and made photos of her speaking outside. The story resonated around the globe, with engagement time on APNews.com topping a minute, and 46,000 social interactions.
For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.