Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the Week

Tim Reiterman, survivor of airstrip attack, tells story of the Jonestown mass murders

When Tim Reiterman set out to tell the story of the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown mass murders and suicides, he didn’t want to retread territory he’d covered with previous anniversary stories, or rely solely on his own harrowing experiences in the South American jungle.

Instead, Reiterman mainly focused on those he hadn’t interviewed before, including the adopted black son of the Rev. Jim Jones. He also focused on those who grew up in the Peoples Temple, or joined as teenagers. These survivors, due to happenstance or their own efforts, were all away from the Jonestown community in Guyana when Jones ordered his followers to drink flavored poison.

The order that ended 900 lives came after a California congressman, temple defectors and journalists including Reiterman were ambushed on a nearby airstrip. The Nov. 18, 1978 attack killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, as well as Reiterman’s photojournalist colleague at the San Francisco Examiner, and three others. Reiterman was wounded in the attack, but went on to shoot photos of the bloody aftermath and write a detailed account two days later.

Reiterman’s approach to the 40th anniversary provided an unparalleled look into the massacre through the eyes of survivors who had to go on grieving close family members and forge new lives back in the United States. It also allowed Reiterman the opportunity to explain the tragedy for readers and viewers who might only know its broad outlines, if that. The all-formats package Reiterman wrote and helped coordinate – with assistance from staffers in all formats throughout the AP – wins this week’s Best 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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