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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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson 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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April 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Confidential toxicology report details Prince overdose

In the nearly two years since Prince’s sudden drug overdose death in 2016, Minneapolis reporter Amy Forliti has closely tracked the criminal investigation into his death, cultivating sources who could help her break developments along the way, including the possibility of criminal charges.

A medical examiner's scant one-page report had cited an accidental overdose of fentanyl as the cause of Prince’s death, but provided almost no other detail. Forliti had pursued a copy of the autopsy and toxicology report ever since from multiple sources. She finally obtained the confidential toxicology report on March 26.

Forliti talked to three experts not involved in the case who analyzed blood and liver readings in the report and characterized them as “exceedingly high” – as one expert put it, they were very high even for a chronic pain patient. The details were something no other media could match.

Forliti's exclusive was widely played. It led the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website for hours and made the printed paper, a rarity for a story on which they compete with AP. CNN referenced the story on-air and online with credit to AP.

For relentlessly working her sources to break news on a long-simmering story, Amy Forliti 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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Oct. 23, 2016

Best of the States

Jailed without a Judge: AP reporter tells the story of woman jailed for months without due process

Reporter Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi, often combs through recent federal court decisions, upcoming cases and random filings. Every once in a while that produces a whopper of a story. The story of Jessica Jauch, who was jailed for 96 days in Mississippi without seeing a judge, getting a lawyer or having a chance to make bail, was the result of such legwork.

“Oh, my God,” he thought, as he pored over court documents that laid out, in great detail how Jauch was charged with a felony based on a secretly recorded video and how when she finally got a hearing and prosecutors watched the video _ in which she committed no crime _ the case fell apart.

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May 27, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Smarts and hustle put AP ahead on guilty plea in Floyd killing

The Minneapolis team of Amy Forliti, Steve Karnowski and Mohamed Ibrahim used diligent beat work and hustle to give AP a major win on the surprise guilty plea from one of three fired Minneapolis police officers facing trial in George Floyd’s killing.Forliti, who monitors legal developments around the officers in the Floyd case, spotted an unexpected May 18 hearing scheduled for Thomas Lane, but no other details — unusual for the Floyd case. Karnowski and Ibrahim were quickly hustled to the hearing while Forliti reworked longstanding prep copy for a possible plea — which was exactly what happened.

Although two other outlets also learned of the hearing and were in attendance, AP had an alert out five minutes ahead of the nearest competitor, and an hour or more ahead of some major national news organizations.Read more

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Wealth, enrollment disparities threaten smaller Black colleges

teamed up to reveal wide disparities among the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, with many smaller private schools fighting for survival.The reporting by Hudspeth Blackburn and Amy was built on an analysis of enrollment and endowment data by data journalists Fenn and Fassett. They found that many smaller, lesser-known HBCUs are struggling with weak endowments, aging buildings and steady enrollment declines. And while HBCUs in the U.S. have received millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid and fresh attention after last summer’s racial justice protests, not all benefit equally.The team’s comprehensive story was complemented by embeddable graphics illustrating the disparities, and advance detailed data on all 102 HBCUs for localization by AP customers. https://aplink.news/wrn

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May 14, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcing, teamwork deliver scoop on federal charges in Floyd killing

delivered a 20-minute beat on the news that four former officers involved in the death of George Floyd were indicted on federal civil rights charges — an unusual move for the Justice Department because three of the officers haven’t faced state trial yet.Balsamo had learned that the federal charges were imminent, and Forliti worked her sources to get the full story: off-the-record details about the still-sealed indictment that allowed her to write robust, fully-formed prep. She was even tipped off that the charges would drop early Friday morning.But when that didn't happen, a source quietly tipped Forliti to phone into a federal hearing happening live. The officers were appearing in federal court, with the charges still sealed. The AP pair — possibly the only reporters listening during the hearing — put out a fast cover story that the former cops were facing federal charges. Balsamo then went to his sources, asking them to send the indictment, because, while it hadn’t been made public yet, he had heard the judge order it made public. AP soon had the indictment. He and Forliti filed alerts, writethrus loaded with context and a full story within 15 minutes. Forliti also filed a video brief on the charges. Meanwhile, no one matched their story for a full 20 minutes, and major national publications were 40 minutes or more behind the AP. Even the hometown Star Tribune used AP’s story on its website.https://bit.ly/3tJ9YYqhttps://bit.ly/3w2BvFF

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April 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Ex-wildlife chief: Trump rule could kill billions of birds

conducted extensive research and reporting on the high stakes of a near-final Trump administration plan to scrap criminal enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which former top wildlife officials fear will devastate American bird populations already in extreme decline. A former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned that without criminal penalties billions of wild birds could be killed in coming decades. The piece, well-illustrated with staff and member photos, received wide play. https://bit.ly/3e3Tp2T

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