Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exposes likely superspreader at federal executions

have covered the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, as well as every federal execution of the last year. That reporting and insight led them to the stunning realization that the Trump administration’s unprecedented string of executions likely became a superspreader event at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.Tarm first learned about the case spread when he heard that he had been exposed — although the Bureau of Prisons did not notify him or others attending the executions. Through rigorous, painstaking reporting, the three Michaels discovered that fully 70% of death row inmates had COVID during the 13 executions in six months, but the Bureau of Prisons felt it wasn’t their responsibility to ensure that everyone was told about the spread or whether their employees were following protocols.The trio’s riveting story detailed how cases spread rapidly through the federal prison complex and likely helped spread infections around the country during a critical time in the pandemic as deaths were skyrocketing. The Friday evening scoop lit up social media and was a top news story well into the weekend. https://bit.ly/3qmh0Sh

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news on US ramp-up of federal executions

have broken exclusives on this year’s resumption of federal executions following a 17-year hiatus, and the accelerated pace of executions during President Donald Trump’s lame-duck period. They have also witnessed every federal execution.Their stories have revealed that the Justice Department considered using firing squads or borrowing electric chairs due to a possible shortage of drugs used for lethal injection, and that the execution team at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the executions are carried out, was sickened with COVID-19, even as they planned more deaths.But above all, the AP witnesses have risked their own health to enter the federal prison in Terre Haute to attend every execution. The team has been unstoppable, delivering fast, accurate reporting that has made AP the definitive source for news on this topic.https://bit.ly/3nlUxTHhttps://bit.ly/2ITQTkShttps://bit.ly/3ahw91Lhttps://bit.ly/3h13Shl

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sweeping coverage of Supreme Court nomination

coordinated their reporting to deliver smooth, comprehensive coverage – and exclusives – as the death and memorial of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg transitioned to the rollout of President Donald Trump’s nomination for the now-vacant seat: Judge Amy Coney Barrett.The AP team focused on Barrett as the front-runner for the nomination and had a robust package ready for Trump’s formal announcement. Coverage of the nomination included a revelatory biography of “Scalia’s heir,” how the nomination came about, how Barrett could be the polar opposite of Ginsburg on the court and how the GOP was investing some $10 million in a digital ad blitz to promote Barrett as the next justice on the nation’s highest court.https://bit.ly/2GgS506https://bit.ly/34e1EoMhttps://bit.ly/34gKhUChttps://bit.ly/33gm7u6

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

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.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

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.

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June 02, 2017

Best of the States

​Death row inmates' last words: Apologies, thanks, defiance

To most, inmates facing execution in America are just names, mug shots and written descriptions of their crimes.

AP was interested in going beyond that, seeking to tell their stories in creative ways that reach beyond our traditional audiences. To make that happen, a unique interactive created by Atlanta-based reporter Kate Brumback, Interactive Editor Nathan Griffiths and Interactive Producer Roque Ruiz takes people inside Georgia’s execution chamber to actually hear the last words of inmates right before they were put to death.

For their resourceful and compelling work, the team of Brumback, Griffiths and Ruiz receives this week's Best of the States award.

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May 05, 2017

Best of the States

Witnessing death: AP reporters describe problem executions

The last of four executions carried out by Arkansas in April highlighted concerns about the drug midazolam. The sedative has been adopted by many states in recent years as part of their lethal injection protocol in place of barbiturates and anesthetics no longer available because manufacturers don't want them used in executions.

How did that midazolam execution compare to others, some in other states, where problems were alleged?

It was a question the AP – with its nationwide profile – was uniquely positioned to answer. For its depth of coverage, the multi-state AP team wins this week's Best of States award.

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April 28, 2017

Best of the States

AP delivers unmatched cross-format coverage as Arkansas pursues unprecedented execution plan

In February, Arkansas announced a series of April executions that, if carried out, would make history in the United States: Over an 11-day period, the state would put to death eight inmates – two each on four days. No state had performed so many executions in such a short time since the Supreme Court re-instated the death penalty in 1976.

And Arkansas, which had not carried out an execution since 2005, had a curious justification for the expedited timetable: the supply of one of its three execution drugs was expiring at the end of the month. Officials were not confident they could obtain more.

Weeks before the first planned execution, a team of AP journalists in Arkansas and beyond set out to both chronicle the executions and offer deep and varied enterprise that broke news. Their work earns this week's Best of States award.

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