Stories

The IRE Resource Center is a major research library containing more than 27,000 investigative stories.

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Search results for "trial" ...

  • Grandma can’t accept your call: Inmates disconnected by phone costs

    This series of stories started with a simple question. Why does it cost so much for inmates to make calls from the Cook County Jail? In the course of my reporting on criminal and legal affairs for WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago, I had heard numerous people complain about the high cost of phone calls. Some digging confirmed that the price could be as high as $15.00 for 15 minute calls. Three or four calls a week at that price gets expensive even for financially stable middle class folks, but the people paying these fees were mostly the poorest residents in Chicago. That’s because most of the people in the Cook County Jail are there because they and their families couldn’t afford to post bond of a couple thousand, or sometimes even just hundreds of dollars to secure their freedom while awaiting trial. They are the people who are least able to afford such expensive phone calls. A few FOIA requests revealed the scheme (and scheme is the right word… I just looked it up: a crafty or secret plan of action). Cook County gave an exclusive phone contract to a company called Securus Technologies. Securus charged inflated phone rates and their exclusive deal in the jail meant inmates wanting to talk to their families or arrange their defense had no choice but to pay the rates. Securus then paid back to the county 57½ percent of the revenue from the calls. It netted the county about $4 million a year. Securus wouldn’t tell us their take but I imagine they did alright too. All of the money was coming out of the pockets of the poorest residents in Cook County, people who couldn’t even afford to post bond for their freedom. (As an aside, this isn’t just an issue in Cook County. According to its website Securus provides the phone systems for 850,000 inmates in 2,200 jails and prisons across the country.) Our reporting shed public light on a hugely profitable contract that no one was paying attention to. We documented the lives of the impoverished people getting hammered by the policy and then turned the hammer on the local elected officials to ask them to explain how this was a good policy. The public officials responded in a way that once again proved the genius of democracy. Our efforts and the results are detailed in subsequent answers below.
  • The Real CSI

    Evidence collected at crime scenes—everything from fingerprints to bite marks—is routinely called upon in the courtroom to prosecute the most difficult crimes and put the guilty behind bars. And though glamorized on commercial television, in the real world, it’s not so cut-and-dried. A joint investigation by FRONTLINE, ProPublica and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley examines the reliability of the science behind forensics in The Real CSI. From the sensational murder trial of Casey Anthony to the credentialing of forensic experts, “The Real CSI” documents how a field with few uniform standards and unproven science can undermine the search for justice. The investigation follows a landmark study by the National Academy of Sciences that called into question the tenets of forensic science. For the first time, Harry T. Edwards, a senior federal appellate court judge and co-chairman of the report, sits for an interview to discuss what the report means. And, FRONTLINE examines one of the most high-profile terrorist investigations since 9/11: the case of Brandon Mayfield, an attorney who was wrongfully identified and arrested as a suspect in the Madrid commuter train bombings after the FBI erroneously matched his fingerprint to a partial print found at the scene. In “The Real CSI,” FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman finds serious flaws in some of the best known tools of forensic science, wide inconsistencies in how forensic evidence is presented in the courtroom and no system in place for establishing the credibility of so-called “forensic experts” whose testimony can lead to a conviction.
  • Forensic Science

    A nine-month investigation found that Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic evidence might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases. In addition, prosecutors did not notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled, forcing innocent defendants to stay incarcerated or on parole. The Post identified two District of Columbia men convicted largely on the flawed forensic work and testimony of FBI hair analysts who wrongly placed them at crime scenes. Since the Post report, both men have had their convictions vacated and judges have taken the unusual steps of fully exonerating the men so they can seek compensation from the government. As a result of The Post’s work, the Justice Department is reviewing more than 21,000 FBI Laboratory cases handled before 2000 to identify convictions that might merit exoneration, re-trial or re-testing of evidence.
  • Concealing County Corruption: Anatomy of a Cover-Up

    Wayne Dolcefino saves the best for last. In his final investigation for KTRK-TV, he and the 13 Undercover Unit demonstrated relentless persistence as they attempted to shake up a county government with an abysmal record of policing itself. This submission begins with four reports detailing shocking evidence of corruption inside the downtown precinct of Constable Jack Abercia. 13 Undercover spent several months doing painstaking surveillance -- catching the Constable’s deputies running his personal errands, working extra jobs on the clock and stockpiling never driven county patrol cars while lawmen were being laid off. 13 Undercover then managed to get a hidden camera inside the chief deputy’s office as he and two deputies talked openly about corruption inside the precinct. The language is often foul mouthed and always revealing. The FBI nabbed Aberica and two top commanders in a bribery sting weeks later. The veteran former constable is now awaiting trial. Eventually, 13 Undercover turned our cameras on county leaders to say “enough is enough.” Not only was action not forthcoming, it quickly became clear that many in positions of power wanted this all to go away without getting their hands dirty, without ending decades of a patronage system that made deputies feel required to give money to their boss’s campaigns and charities to keep their jobs. That was not an option. This investigation demanded accountability and we held leaders to the promises they made to the public. In late summer, 13 Undercover scored a major public records victory that revealed what one commentator dubbed "a cover-up of Nixonian proportions." The series culminated with the long awaited, and previously unimaginable, indictment of one of the county’s most popular elected officials – precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino. New county directives now prohibit constables from soliciting money from their deputies and legislation is expected to filed in Austin to protect county employees from further shakedowns.
  • 'Perversion files' show locals helped cover up

    On June 14, 2012, following a civil trial, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that decades of the Boy Scouts’ confidential files would be made public. They would first need to allow the Scouts and plaintiffs’ attorneys time to redact the files of sensitive information. Given a months-long head start, editor Terry Petty and reporter Nigel Duara began the process of negotiating the unredacted files from a longtime source. The negotiations took two months and required the guarantee of an embargo. In August, they received a CD with 20,000 pages of perversion files. Duara and Petty combed through the files, looking for patterns. The Scouts’ concealment of the abuse has been reported before, beginning with an exhaustive series in the early 1990s from the Washington Times. But the AP team found something else: Locals helped. County attorneys, newspaper editors, mayors and police officers were all detailed in the files helping keep the Scouts’ name out of charging documents and off the front page. Indeed, a local county attorney proudly reported to Scouts leaders that he quashed an investigation in which a man confessed to sexually abusing two brothers “to protect the name of Scouting.”
  • Broken Justice in Phillips County

    A five-part series preceded by an initial investigation into dysfunction in the criminal justice system in an Arkansas Delta county known for corruption and poverty. The year-long investigation uncovered errors and archaic practices in the handling of fugitive warrants and speedy trials that allowed felony suspects to remain free for years without fear of answering to the charges against them. As a result, prosecutors had to drop hundreds of cases for failure to take them to trial in a timely manner. Since publication, the Phillips County sheriff has made changes in how his office handles failure-to-appear warrants, and court officials have reduced case backlogs. Nevertheless, problems persist.
  • C-HIT: Toxic Laundry Emissions

    Industrial laundries in New England have recently come under intense scrutiny by the EPA, ever since the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) found that volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) were being released at a facility in Waterbury, CT. According to Steve Rapp, Chief of the Air Technical Unit, EPA Region 1, the problem is widespread and significant. “The industrial laundries are grossly under-reporting their VOCs,” said Rapp. “It’s a total sleeper.” The problem stems from the process of laundering shop towels, which are often contaminated with toxic solvents. When improperly cleaned, the solvents are vaporized and emitted to the surrounding air. This article investigated this little-known source of air pollution, shedding light on the industry’s practices and its impact on air quality and public health.
  • Behind Closed Doors, Kentucky City Buys Controversial Building For $1.3 Million

    Danville, Kentucky’s purchase of the former Boyle County Industrial Storage Facility, better known as the BISCO building, drew a lot of controversy along with legal battles during the second half of 2012. During its Aug. 13 meeting, Danville City Commission unanimously voted to buy the building at auction for $1,237,550. However, a bidder hired by the city had already won the property in auction three days before. Also, on the day of the auction city officials had cut a check for 10 percent of the BISCO building’s purchase price. Residents raised concerns about the secretive nature of the purchase, especially since then-Commissioner Ryan Montgomery’s father, Mike, had a long-standing business relationship with the building’s former owner Mitchell Barnes. After being publicly prodded, Mayor Bernie Hunstad also acknowledged that his wife, Susan, worked for the bidder the city hired to handle the auction process.
  • Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper

    Scapegoat is the true story of the horrific Chino Hills murders -- the highest profile crime in San Bernardino County history. It shows how law enforcement ignored eyewitness information implicating three white men as the perpetrators in order to pin the crime on Kevin Cooper, a recently escaped black prisoner from the nearby prison in Chino, California. It shows how his public defender lost the case before the trial even began and how the justice system has failed Cooper at almost every turn. It also shows the heroic work of an international law firm headquartered in San Francisco that adopted Cooper's case pro bono just three months before his scheduled execution in 2004 and won him a stay and how lawyers from this firm continue to appeal his wrongful conviction.
  • Grandma can’t accept your call: Inmates disconnected by phone costs

    This series of stories started with a simple question. Why does it cost so much for inmates to make calls from the Cook County Jail? In the course of my reporting on criminal and legal affairs for WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago, I had heard numerous people complain about the high cost of phone calls. Some digging confirmed that the price could be as high as $15.00 for 15 minute calls. Three or four calls a week at that price gets expensive even for financially stable middle class folks, but the people paying these fees were mostly the poorest residents in Chicago. That’s because most of the people in the Cook County Jail are there because they and their families couldn’t afford to post bond of a couple thousand, or sometimes even just hundreds of dollars to secure their freedom while awaiting trial. They are the people who are least able to afford such expensive phone calls. A few FOIA requests revealed the scheme (and scheme is the right word… I just looked it up: a crafty or secret plan of action). Cook County gave an exclusive phone contract to a company called Securus Technologies. Securus charged inflated phone rates and their exclusive deal in the jail meant inmates wanting to talk to their families or arrange their defense had no choice but to pay the rates. Securus then paid back to the county 57½ percent of the revenue from the calls. It netted the county about $4 million a year. Securus wouldn’t tell us their take but I imagine they did alright too. All of the money was coming out of the pockets of the poorest residents in Cook County, people who couldn’t even afford to post bond for their freedom. (As an aside, this isn’t just an issue in Cook County. According to its website Securus provides the phone systems for 850,000 inmates in 2,200 jails and prisons across the country.) Our reporting shed public light on a hugely profitable contract that no one was paying attention to. We documented the lives of the impoverished people getting hammered by the policy and then turned the hammer on the local elected officials to ask them to explain how this was a good policy. The public officials responded in a way that once again proved the genius of democracy. Our efforts and the results are detailed in subsequent answers below.