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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July 24, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Inside the first major outbreak at an ICE detention center

The reason the warden at a large San Diego detention center gave for not wearing masks amid the pandemic was astonishing – and likely helped fuel a large outbreak.

“Well, you can’t wear the mask because we don’t want to scare the employees and we don’t want to scare the inmates and detainees,” a guard recalled being told.

That’s just the lead of the story by AP’s Elliot Spagat, who landed the first detailed interviews with employees and detainees about the situation at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Spagat also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and government data to provide the most complete account yet of the first major outbreak at a U.S. immigration facility.

For giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the factors that surely contributed to the virus outbreak, and for holding the warden and other officials accountable, Spagat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 03, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive reporting on federal prisons amid COVID-19 fears

have dominated reporting on the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the dysfunction inside. Their latest exclusive used rich sourcing to reveal how the system is struggling to manage the coronavirus in federal prisons. The pair heard from inmates who said there has been little guidance on what to do if they experience symptoms, and very little social distancing. Corrections officers described a lack of supplies inside prisons, and rules on protective gear that vary widely from prison to prison. Balsamo and Sisak highlighted scattershot policies that show zero uniformity despite growing fears over outbreaks of the virus. https://bit.ly/2R1aOiG

March 20, 2020

Best of the Week

Italy teams lead the way on coronavirus coverage despite major obstacles

As sweeping restrictions and lockdown measures rolled out across the world in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, AP’s team of staff and freelancers in Italy set an example for how to produce compelling and competitive journalism in all formats despite major challenges affecting them both professionally and personally, including the very real risk of being placed in self-quarantine for covering stories in risk zones.

Three weeks into the Italian outbreak, AP produced some of the strongest coverage yet including multiple exclusives and beats across formats. That work included: How the northern town of Codogno greatly reduced the spread of the virus, a first-person account of the lockdown’s impact on families, overwhelmed doctors drawing parallels to war-time triage, rioting at Italian prisons, residents showing solidarity from their balconies, and more.

AP’s coverage throughout the crisis in Italy has consistently won heavy play online and in print.

For resourceful, dedicated and inspired journalism under unusually demanding circumstances, the Rome and Milan bureaus receive AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 07, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigates a teen’s life sentence – and the role of Amy Klobuchar

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar has often cited a case – a life sentence given to black teen for killing a young girl – as proof of her tough-on-crime bona fides as a former prosecutor. 

Over the course of a year, Minnesota-based investigative reporter Robin McDowell examined the case against Myon Burrell, who was 16 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. 

McDowell found major irregularities, including inconsistent evidence and questionable police tactics. The resulting package had impact, forcing new scrutiny of the case and Klobuchar’s handling of it. 

For dogged reported that shed new light and focused attention on the case against a man who has long said he was wrongfully convicted, McDowell wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 04, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop: California prisons ending program to make peace among gangs

for reporting exclusively that the California prison system was ending a controversial program in which it had attempted to get inmates who were members of rival gangs to meet and mingle in outdoor recreation areas. Thompson documented a series of fights, brawls and riots in the prison system, and officials decided to suspend the program, acknowledging that it had not worked as intended. https://bit.ly/2AFGQrX

June 28, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP partners with Maryland students to investigate US jail suicides

for a unique partnership to investigate the high rate of suicides in U.S. jails. Cohen and students from the University of Maryland’s Capital New Service spent months compiling a database of lawsuits and reviewing hundreds of other cases, finding news-making patterns: Scores of jails have been sued or investigated for allegedly refusing inmates medication, ignoring their cries for help, failing to monitor them despite warnings they might harm themselves, or imposing such harsh conditions that the sick got sicker.https://bit.ly/2IP5zhfhttps://www.apnews.com/DeathBehindBars

March 30, 2018

Best of the Week

AP analysis: At least 19,000 in Iraq detained for terrorism, thousands sentenced to death

Prisons in Iraq held thousands of Islamic State group militants, but few outside the government knew exactly how many. Baghdad-based reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra set out to find out – and he wasn’t going to take a rough estimate for an answer.

With Baghdad correspondent Susannah George and Mideast enterprise editor Lee Keath, Abdul-Zahara analyzed documents he obtained from a Justice Ministry official, finding that the government was holding at least 19,000 people accused of ISIS connections or other terror-related offenses and that more than 3,000 of them had been sentenced to death.

For intrepid source work and analysis to establish the facts around the imprisonment of thousands of Islamic State group militants in Iraq, Abdul-Zahra, George and Keath win Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the Week

50-state investigation reveals arbitrary patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers

After the U.S. Supreme Court told states that juveniles who had been given mandatory life without parole sentences should get the chance to argue for their release, national writers Sharon Cohen and Adam Geller wanted to know how judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards were dealing with the inmates.

Aided by reporters in all 50 states, their exhaustive investigation showed for the first time that the high court’s mandate in 2016 to give inmates a chance at freedom is being applied inconsistently, varying from state to state, even county to county, “in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.”

The resulting three-day series featured deeply reported text stories, an expansive photo report of inmates from across the country, a 16-minute audio extra, a video animation on teen brain development, a video story, and a searchable trove of state-by-state details – all hosted in a dynamic hub on APNews.com.

Cohen and Geller’s work wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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July 06, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

State agency admits photo deletion order was wrong

for getting photos of prison inmates moving furniture at the New Jersey statehouse and defending press freedom. Corrections officers erroneously told Catalini such photos are illegal and ordered him to remove the images from his phone. Catalini stood his ground and saved the images in his deleted photos folder. After receiving a letter from an AP lawyer, officials conceded the officers were wrong. AP had already moved the images. https://apnews.com/348a45a1135843468642d420be093de...

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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