June 14, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the Week

AP reveals: Catholic nuns accuse clergy of sexual abuse

It was a #MeToo moment from the Vatican with a seemingly unlikely accuser – a nun.

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s interview with a nun, who broke a 20-year-silence about being physically assaulted by an Italian priest, and reporting by Uganda correspondent Rodney Muhumuza about the scope of abuse in Africa, resulted in the AP being the first news organization to chronicle the global impact on nuns of the #MeToo movement.

Their story, which included expert analysis and exclusive Vatican comment urging nuns to report and bishops to sanction abusive priests, earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 01, 2016

Best of the States

A distinctive retelling of a shocking tragedy

As nurse practitioners, Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill played a pivotal role in the lives of many people in rural Holmes County, Mississippi, which with 44 percent of its residents living in poverty ranks as the seventh-poorest county in America, according to the Census Bureau.

So when the two Roman Catholic nuns were found stabbed to death in the home they shared, the news devastated friends and families, as well as the many people who came to rely on the pair for critical, life-saving medical care.

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